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UN suspends aid to Gaza for lack of fuel

GAZA CITY (AFP) — The United Nations stopped distributing aid to the Gaza Strip on Thursday after running out of fuel as the Israeli terminal that supplies the besieged Palestinian territory remained shut.


"We have just stopped the distribution of all food aid to 650,000 Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip because of the lack of fuel in our storage in Gaza," said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) office in Gaza.


"We also stopped transporting students and officials in the Gaza Strip," he told AFP. "Not a litre of fuel came from Israel," he added.


Israel, which maintains a punishing blockade on the impoverished territory, accused the Islamist Hamas movement of preventing distribution of one million litres of fuel (260,000 gallons) delivered about a week ago.


But UNRWA retorted that the stored fuel was not destined for UN agencies in

Gaza, which buy their own supplies.


Israel suggested that the United Nations complain to Hamas, which controls Gaza.


"They should take it up with Hamas and demand they get fuel from the million litres stored on the Palestinian side of the border," foreign ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said.


"We did try today to transfer fuel directly to UNRWA but a farmers' demonstration supported by Hamas prevented us from doing so," he told AFP.


John Ging, who heads the UNRWA offices in Gaza, said Israel had promised to supply 100,000 litres of diesel and 20,000 litres of petrol to the United Nations.


"It is unacceptable that the UN should find itself having to consider suspending its humanitarian operations simply for a lack of fuel for its vehicles," EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said in a statement.


Israel stopped supplying petrol and diesel, and cut fuel supplies for Gaza's power plant by half after Palestinian militants attacked Nahal Oz two weeks ago, killing two Israeli civilian employees.


It resumed shipments of fuel for the power plant several days later, but again halted deliveries after another attack killed three Israeli soldiers near the crossing.


Israel has sealed the Gaza Strip off to all but very limited humanitarian aid since Hamas seized control of the territory from forces loyal to moderate president Mahmud Abbas last June.


A Hamas delegation announced after talks with Egyptian mediators in Cairo that the Islamist movement was ready to accept a phased truce that would only extend to the occupied West Bank in a second stage in return for an end to Israel's blockade.


Senior Hamas official Mahmud al-Zahar, a former Palestinian foreign minister, said the group was ready to accept the truce extending to West Bank after a six-month delay, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported.


In the past Israel has rejected a truce covering all of the Palestinian territories, saying that its operations in the occupied West Bank are essential to prevent militants from launching attacks inside the Jewish state.


On Wednesday, Robert Serry, the UN special envoy for the Middle East peace process, urged militants to stop attacking border crossings and called on Israel to lift its blockade.


Humanitarian agencies say Gaza, one of the world's most densely populated territories with 1.5 million people living on a narrow sliver of land, is on the brink of disaster.


Israel says its sanctions are necessary to pressure Hamas to end persistent rocket attacks.


The situation was highlighted on Wednesday at a UN Security Council session in New York that saw Western ambassadors walk out in protest after the Libyan delegate compared conditions in Gaza to those in Nazi death camps.


Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy UN ambassador, said on Thursday the

situation in Gaza is actually "worse" than in the Nazi camps.


"It is more than what happened in the concentration camps because there is the bombing, daily bombs in Gaza," Dabbashi told reporters. "It is worse."


Libya, the sole Arab member on the 15-member council, acts as a spokesman for the Arab group at the United Nations.


Israel's ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman reacted furiously to Dabbashi's comments, saying that it showed that Libya remained a "terrorist" state despite its rapprochement with the West of the past five years.


"Libya is a very pertinent example of what happens when you let terrorists infiltrate the Security Council," he said.

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Disrupted fuel supply causes U.N. aid cuts in Gaza


GAZA (Reuters) - A U.N. agency suspended its aid operations in the Gaza Strip on Thursday after an emergency shipment of fuel designated for its use was blocked by petrol-hungry Palestinian farmers.


Mahmoud al-Khuzundar of the Association for Petrol Station Owners in the Gaza Strip said 50,000 liters (13,209 gallons) of diesel was meant to be delivered to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to help aid distribution.


But a group of Gaza farmers who wanted fuel to be distributed openly beyond UNRWA blocked the tanker from reaching the terminal where fuel is pumped into the Gaza Strip, forcing the aid agency to suspend operations.

"We did not receive any fuel today and therefore the distribution of food supplies has been suspended," said Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA's media advisor in Gaza.


Israel stepped up its blockade of Gaza in June after Hamas seized the territory, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, from its Fatah rivals. Israel says it has limited fuel and other deliveries in response to cross-border rocket attacks by militants in Gaza.


Abu Hasna said the food suspension will affect at least 700,000 refugees in the Hamas-controlled territory. UNRWA said 50,000 liters of fuel should be enough to last about a week.


The petrol station owners' association has been on strike, refusing to collect the fuel near Nahal Oz crossing -- the only border terminal used to pump fuel to the Gaza Strip -- in protest at Israel's cutbacks in supplies to the territory.


UNRWA warned on Wednesday it would be forced to suspend food distribution to Palestinians on Thursday unless it received fuel supplies. The European Union called on Israel to ensure fuel deliveries to Gaza.


"It is unacceptable that the U.N. should find itself having to consider suspending its humanitarian operations simply for a lack of fuel for its vehicles," EU aid commissioner Louis Michel said in a statement.


"It is also unacceptable that public services, such as garbage collection, sewage treatment, or hospitals are on the brink of collapse for the same reason," he said.


"It's essential that the fuel supply to Gaza is resumed, and in particular that fuel provision for the United Nations agencies, as well as basic services be guaranteed immediately."


Colonel Nir Press, head of Israel's Coordination and Liaison Administration for Gaza, said Israel had coordinated with UNRWA Thursday's disrupted delivery and that he hoped it would be renewed on Friday.


"There is about a million liters (264,170 gallons) of diesel and petrol in storage tanks on the Palestinian side of Nahal Oz. For a month now, the Palestinians have not been taking the diesel and petrol," Press said.


Press accused the Islamist Hamas group of preventing its distribution and creating the fuel shortage.


Palestinian militants attacked the Nahal Oz fuel terminal two weeks ago, killing two Israeli civilians.




The French medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said its operations, which have already been hampered by the shortages, will also end unless it receives new deliveries.


"Currently MSF is functioning on its emergency stock and only has 10 days of fuel left. If supplies are not restored, the situation could become dramatic very quickly," said mission chief Duncan Mclean.


Israel allowed one million liters of EU-funded diesel fuel to be pumped to Gaza's only power station on Wednesday after Kanan Abaid, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Energy Authority in the Gaza Strip, warned the plant would have to shut down unless supplies resumed.


A European Commission official said there was enough fuel at the plant for about three days, but that it would have to shut down on Sunday if no new deliveries were allowed through.


(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Brussels and Francois Murphy in Paris)


(Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Ari Rabinovitch and Sami Aboudi)

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