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Humanitarian Crisis In Gaza Deepens In Second Week Of Crisis


An Israeli air strike hits the northern Gaza Strip

An Israeli air strike hits the northern Gaza Strip

(RFE/RL) -- The Israeli air campaign against Hamas has entered its second week, and UN officials say the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip is deepening, despite Israel's increased truck deliveries of vital supplies amid the bombing.

Since the offensive began eight days ago, Israeli airplanes have been hitting targets in Gaza on an average of one air strike every 20 minutes, according to the estimates of UN relief agencies in Gaza City.

Gaza medics say the air strikes have killed more than 430 people and wounded more than 2,000.

Israeli has carried out more than 700 strikes as it retaliates against Hamas for firing missiles at southern Israeli towns. The targets range from Hamas government buildings and the homes of Hamas officials to tunnels used to smuggle in weapons.

But bombs have also hit roads and knocked out power and water supplies to many parts of the city. Now, Gaza's infrastructure, already weakened by 18 months of an Israeli blockade aimed at isolating Hamas, is collapsing.

The pipelines that usually handle Gaza's fuel imports have been closed since the strikes began and the only power plant has been shut for the last four days due to lack of fuel and parts.

Israel has stepped up emergency truck deliveries into Gaza of vital supplies like medicine. About 60 truckloads arrive each day. But that is still far below what Israel used to let in -- some 475 truckloads a day -- before Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in mid-2007.

On the street, Gaza residents express a mix of resignation and defiance in the face of the bombings and shortages of everything from heating and cooking gas to flour and rice.

"What is happening is that they want to terrorize the people. But on the contrary, we are getting stronger in our resistance," said Gaza resident Mohamad Kharoob.

Israel hopes the strikes will convince Gaza residents to turn against Hamas decisively enough to stop militants from firing missiles against southern towns. But the missiles launches against Israel continue, with at least six fired today, wounding two people.

Hamas has fired some 500 rocket and mortar rounds since the Israeli air offensive began, killing four people and wounding dozens.

But the Islamic militia -- which won legislative elections in 2006 -- remains firmly in power in Gaza. Its police force, no longer dressed in uniforms but in civilian clothes for fear of air strikes, still patrols the streets.

It is impossible to know whether the violence will escalate further or whether international calls for a cease-fire finally will have an effect.

Israeli troops and armor remain massed on the northern Gaza border. For days, they have been waiting for a go-ahead for the ground incursion that would be needed to weaken Hamas further after the pilots run out of major targets.

But Israeli officials continue to weigh whether an incursion, which would entail Israeli casualties, is the best option. And international calls for a cease-fire keep growing louder.

On January 2, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace process, Robert Serry, warned that ground fighting would greatly worsen the situation. "We are gravely concerned about that prospect because that would just mean another cycle of violence and a further escalation of the conflict. This must stop," Serry said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon urged world leaders to intensify efforts to achieve a cease-fire that includes peace monitors.

The call for a monitored cease-fire was echoed by U.S. President George W. Bush on January 2. Calling Hamas rocket fire an "act of terror," he said no peace deal would be acceptable without monitoring the flow of weapons to terrorist groups.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due in the region by January 5 to renew his efforts to mediate in the conflict. Israel rejected an earlier French call for a 48-hour truce, saying it contained no Hamas guarantees to stop the rocket fire.

The EU is also sending three foreign ministers -- from the Czech Republic, France, and Sweden -- to the region. They will also press for both sides to end the violence -- an appeal that for eight days has been often repeated but, so far, little heeded.


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