CAIRO: Egyptian authorities deployed hundreds of additional troops Monday to secure the Gaza border after receiving warnings that blockaded Palestinians might attempt to storm into Egypt.
The Gaza Strip is now totally isolated since Israel closed off all crossing points leading into the territory last Thursday, and have refused to allow fuel shipments through. This led to the shutting down of the main power plant late Sunday and has left the residents literally in the dark.
President Hosni Mubarak called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Monday to urge him to remove the blockade as well as halt attacks on Gaza.
Mubarak “warned of the deteriorating humanitarian situation resulting from the blockade imposed on the strip by Israel, MENA news agency reported.
A desperate Hamas, which rules the strip, has called on Egypt to reopen the Rafah border crossing that has been closed since June of last year. They are hoping to send a delegation to Egypt for this reason.
“We have suggested that we send an official delegation from Gaza to our brothers in the Egyptian leadership to look into ways of bringing aid and basic goods through the Rafah crossing, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement.
“We have one demand and that is the opening of the Rafah crossing and the breaking of the siege, he added.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit received Sunday a phone call from Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal, who resides in Syria, detailing the situation in Gaza. Aboul Gheit informed Meshaal of Egyptian efforts to convince the international community to pressure Israel into lifting the blockade.
Haniyeh urged the Arab League to take “concrete steps to alleviate the situation. The organization held an emergency meeting to discuss the blockade.
Assistant Secretary-General Ahmed bin Hilli said the League would ask the international community to exert pressure on Israel to lift the blockade. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said last Saturday, “The quartet must immediately move to stop the series of aggressions and to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza in order to end the humanitarian crisis … and to avoid the collapse of current Palestinian-Israeli talks.
However, Israel seemed adamant that Hamas was to blame for diverting fuel for other purposes. A statement from the Israeli foreign ministry said, “The supply of electricity to Gaza from the Israel and the Egyptian power grids [124 Megawatts and 17 Megawatts, respectively] has continued uninterrupted. These 141 Megawatts of power represents about three quarters of Gaza’s electricity needs.
The statement continued, “While the fuel supply from Israel into Gaza has indeed been reduced, due to the Hamas rocket attacks, the diversion of this fuel from domestic power generators to other uses is wholly a Hamas decision – apparently taken due to media and propaganda considerations. Additionally, “The Hamas claim of humanitarian crisis in Gaza is also greatly exaggerated. There is no shortage of basic foodstuffs, and Gaza patients who need treatment in Israeli hospitals continue to travel into Israel for care, the statement read.
Yet Israel’s claim that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is exaggerated does not dovetail with comments from relief agency officials working in the strip.
Karen Koning AbuZayd, commisioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees in the Near East, previously told Daily News Egypt that the situation in Gaza was “terrible and that the humanitarian crisis was bordering on the catastrophic. These comments were given before the recent closures.
Israel also has intentions to develop its security arrangements along the border with Egypt. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak proposed on Sunday the building of a security fence along the Egyptian-Israel border to prevent the smuggling of arms.