UN to Suspend Food Distribution in Gaza

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Agence France Presse

UN to Suspend Food Distribution in Gaza

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Palestinians wheel the body of a Hamas fighter into the Nasir hospital in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip. The United Nations will suspend its food distribution to half of Gaza's 1.5 million people on Thursday after Israel failed to allow emergency supplies into the Palestinian territory, a spokesman said. (AFP/Said Khatib)

GAZA CITY - The United Nations will suspend
its food distribution to half of Gaza's 1.5 million people on Thursday
after Israel failed to allow emergency supplies into the Palestinian
territory, a spokesman said.

Israel
initially said it would allow 30 trucks to deliver supplies to Gaza on
Thursday after it completely sealed off the Gaza Strip on November 5,
but later said mortar fire by Gaza militants made it impossible to do
so.

"They have told us the crossings are closed today. At the end
of today we will suspend our food distribution," said UN Relief and
Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness.

"Our warehouses are effectively empty," he told AFP.

UNRWA
usually distributes emergency food rations to about 750,000 people in
the impoverished, overcrowded sliver of land whose economy has been
crippled by a tight blockade Israel says is aimed at forcing militants
to stop firing rockets and mortar rounds at the Jewish state.

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) said a truck it sent to the Kerem Shalom crossing was turned back.

Israel
usually allows some humanitarian supplies into Gaza, but even this has
stopped over the past week, leading to harsh criticism from aid
agencies.

"Pushing people to the brink of desperation every few
months and forcing UNRWA into yet another cycle of crisis management is
not in the interest of anyone who believes in peace, moderation and
stability," said Gunness.

ICRC mission chief Katharina Ritz said
that "every day the situation is getting more and more precarious for
Gazans," adding that there was a desperate need for medical supplies.

The Israeli military confirmed the closure of Gaza continued on Thursday.

"The crossings will remain closed today for security reasons," defence ministry spokesman Peter Lerner said.

Reopening
the crossings "has been delayed because of the mortar shelling that
impedes the proper functioning of the crossing points," he said.

The
Israeli government generally responds to Gaza attacks by sealing off
the territory, cutting off the already limited basic supplies it allows
in under the blockade it imposed after Hamas seized control in June
last year.

Israel had been expected to significantly ease its
embargo after a six-month truce went into effect on June 19, but it
argues that sporadic attacks by Gaza militants have made this
impossible.

On Wednesday, four Gaza gunmen identified as Hamas
members were killed in an exchange of fire Israel said started after
militants tried to place a bomb near the border fence.

Militants fired several mortar rounds at Israel, prompting two air strikes on the coastal strip.

Israeli
public radio cited security sources as saying that over the past week,
Hamas has been trying to create a new situation by breaking the
unwritten agreement that Palestinians should not approach the border
fence.

A flare-up last week left seven Palestinians dead and prompted Israel to close crossing points completely.

On
Tuesday it reopened the terminal that handles all fuel supplies to Gaza
to allow delivery of diesel to the territory's sole power plant one day
after it shuddered to a halt.

Both sides accuse each other of
violating the truce, although Israel has indicated it would like to
extend the ceasefire beyond its scheduled expiry on December 19.

"We
hope the truce is not over, but we are going through a very delicate
period in which we are prepared to confront any situation," deputy
defence minister Matan Vilnai told public radio.

He nevertheless said that Israel "will continue to act whenever necessary."

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