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Israel closes all Gaza Strip entries

The Baltimore Sun

JERUSALEM -- Israel closed all border crossings with the Gaza Strip yesterday, cutting off at least one aid shipment, and bombed the empty Interior Ministry building of the Palestinian Authority, which was already a ruin from a previous Israeli bombing.

Israel said it was acting to try to halt Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza, while Hamas and other Palestinian militants said they had increased their rocket fire in retaliation against intensified Israeli raids.

In the bombing of the empty ministry building, which is in the crowded Al-Rimal neighborhood of western Gaza City, one woman, Haniah Abd-el Jawad, 52, was killed and up to 46 people were injured by blast and shrapnel, some of them children, according to medical officials at Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital.

Israel has declared Gaza, run by Hamas, a "hostile entity" and has tried to persuade its leaders to stop rocket fire by reducing supplies of gasoline, diesel fuel and electricity, a move that has brought challenges in the Israeli Supreme Court by Israeli nongovernmental organizations.

The Israeli military has been operating nearly every day inside Gaza, luring Hamas and allied gunmen into firefights, and 35 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Monday - 18 of them Tuesday and five more yesterday - and 80 people wounded, according to Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, director of the emergency medical service in Gaza.

After Tuesday, Hamas resumed firing Qassam rockets toward the Israeli border town of Sderot, along with other militant groups such as Islamic Jihad and Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. On Thursday, at least 40 rockets were launched, half of them landing in Israel, hitting two houses in Sderot and lightly wounding four Israelis, with a dozen more treated for shock.

Yesterday, at least 31 more rockets were fired toward Israel, and 16 landed, the Israeli army said, but no one was wounded.

One rocket landed within 40 yards of a nursery school, which was in session, according to an Israeli spokesman, David Baker. Since Tuesday, the army said, 130 Qassams were launched; in general, about half land in Israel and the remainder land in Gaza.

The cycle of retaliation and response was described the other day by Yair Lapid, a well-known Israeli journalist, in the daily Yediot Aharonot: "The objective of the operation in Gaza is to prevent the Qassam fire. But the operation in Gaza is causing Qassams to be fired. The Qassam fire will, in turn, bring about the next operation in Gaza, which will lead to the next round of Qassam fire."

Lapid continued: "Everyone is playing his role; each side pretends to be the initiator, while well aware in its heart of hearts that it is just as trapped as the other side is."

Yesterday, in the Jabaliya refugee camp, north of Gaza City, Israel fired a rocket at a car, killing a member of the Hamas military wing and another man who Israel said were part of a rocket squad, and Israel also bombed a Hamas police facility in central Gaza.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, in the Balata refugee camp, Israeli commandos killed Ahmed Muhamad Ibrahim Sanakra, 21, a wanted gunman who was carrying a rifle, Israel said, and arrested four associates.

The Israeli decision to close border crossings is another attempt to pressure Hamas in Gaza, and at least one U.N. aid shipment was not allowed through yesterday.

The Defense Ministry said that all imports will have to be approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and would be limited to "humanitarian supplies" that are judged to be running low, such as milk or cooking oil. Israel has already sharply restricted imports to Gaza since the Hamas takeover in June. The closure will likely be reviewed tomorrow in the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which helps Palestinian refugees, said: "This situation in Gaza is dire, and the continued closures, in the context of closures since June, only makes the situation of people of Gaza more perilous."

His agency had been getting in 15 trucks of aid a day until Wednesday, he said, and while it has two months of stocks in Gaza, aid recipients still need fresh food to supplement the aid. He said Israel should broaden its definition of "humanitarian imports" to include schoolbooks, cement for needed health projects and chlorine for water purification.

In Sderot, Avi Barssessat, the president of a high-end mattress factory, Hollandia International, said he would relocate his plant and its 120 employees to central Israel, exhausted by seven years of rocket attacks. "I hope it will be a warning light for the government," he told the Jerusalem Post.

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