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International Outcry Calls for End to Israeli Blockade of Gaza Strip


There is growing concern from the international community about the four-day Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, after the territory's only power station shut down for lack of fuel. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has phoned Israeli leaders to warn them of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from Cairo.

The blockade of Gaza is sparking anger and concern from Arab states and elsewhere.

Gaza City has been plunged into darkness as the territory's only power station has shut down for lack of fuel. Hospitals in the city are running on generators, but their fuel supplies are reportedly running low.

Although fuel deliveries from Israel have been halted and the power station in Gaza city shut down, Israel supplies about 70 percent of Gaza's electricity, and has not cut off that service. Israel says it imposed the blockade to try to halt rocket attacks against its territory from Gaza.

The blockade has been criticized by Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries to sign peace deals with Israel, as well as by other states in the region, including Syria, Lebanon and Kuwait. The Arab League held an emergency session to ask the international community to increase pressure on Israel to lift the blockade.

There were protests in Jordan and Lebanon in support of Hamas, which has run the Gaza Strip since violently taking power there in June.

The Egyptian government said President Hosni Mubarak telephoned the Israeli prime minister and defense minister to warn them of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossam Zaki told VOA Mr. Mubarak called for the lifting of the siege.

"The president demanded that Israel stops the action that it has taken against the strip," he said. "We view this action as collective punishment that is contrary to the Geneva Convention ... The Israelis have to cease this action immediately and resume the fueling of the electricity stations so that the humanitarian situation does not deteriorate into a total catastrophe."

The European Union external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, urged Israel to allow shipments of fuel and medicine, and to open border crossings.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he will not let a humanitarian catastrophe unfold, but he says Gaza's 1.5 million residents should not be able to live, what he called, "a pleasant and comfortable life" as long as southern Israel comes under rocket attack from Gaza.

Hamas leader in Gaza and former Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya called for the government to throw open the Egyptian border with Gaza.

There were reports of a protest on the Palestinian side of the border.

The Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman insisted that Egypt's border with Gaza was not the issue.

Speaking in Damascus, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal addressed himself directly to President Mubarak.

Meshaal called on the Egyptian leader to tell Israel and the United States that the siege of Gaza must end. If the territory's electricity is not restored, he said, Egypt will bear responsibility for the people of Gaza.

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