Israel rejects Hamas cease-fire offer as humanitarian crisis deepens in Gaza
Israel says offer is a bid to buy time. The UN said it ran out of fuel to distribute aid.
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The United Nations stopped distributing food to Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip on Thursday after its vehicles ran out of fuel because of the Israeli blockade, a U.N. official said.
Israeli countered that fuel is available, but said the Islamic group Hamas ruling Gaza is preventing it from being distributed.
A spokesman for the United Nations' Relief Works Agency, Adnan Abu Hasna, said 700,000 Palestinians won't be getting packages of basic foods because the agency could not bring in new shipments or distribute them without fuel for its vehicles.
"All of our regular food operations have stopped because of the fuel shortage," he said.
Israel imposed a blockade after Hamas fighters seized control of Gaza last June in a five-day battle with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's security forces.
Israeli authorities ship fuel for Gaza's power plant but maintain a ban on gasoline and diesel fuel for general use.
Analysts in the Middle East say the fuel shortage highlights that conditions in the Gaza strip are reaching a critical point and could threaten further instability, according to the Arab weekly Al-Ahram, which quotes Palestinian economist Hazem Kawasmi:
[I]n the Gaza Strip, where there is economic meltdown resulting from the hermetic Israeli blockade, Kawasmi predicts an "explosion" in the coming few weeks or months. This explosion, he argued, would again be directed towards the Egyptian border, for the sake of getting food, medicine and all kinds of goods that don't exist today in the Gaza Strip.
"One cannot expect people to live in hunger and in high rates of poverty and unemployment for a long time. There is no convincing justification why the Palestinian- Egyptian border at Rafah has not opened yet, even on temporary basis, leaving Gazan children, women and elderly people to die slowly and suffer on a daily basis," he said.
In a briefing to the Security Council, Assistant Secretary General Angela Kane said Gaza had suffered "heightened humanitarian distress" caused by closed border crossings with Israel and Egypt, the shortage of basic food and commodities, poor water supplies and sanitation.
More than 80% of Gaza's population rely on humanitarian assistance, with UN food aid going to about 1.1 million people. A high proportion of them are children.
These developments come a day after President George Bush, meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, said a two-state deal is still possible before Mr. Bush leaves office, The New York Times reports.
Mr. Bush met Thursday at the White House with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, part of a flurry of high-level meetings aimed at shoring up the flagging Middle East peace talks. The president said afterward that he "remained confident that the talks could produce parameters for a Palestinian state."
"I assured the president that a Palestinian state's a high priority for me and my administration: a viable state, a state that doesn't look like Swiss cheese, a state that provides hope," Mr. Bush said, adding, "I'm confident we can achieve the definition of a state."
Mr. Abbas praised Mr. Bush for "seeking a true, genuine and lasting peace in the Middle East."