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Israel Resists Demands to Ease Gaza Blockade


Israel is resisting international demands to ease its crippling blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the situation is testing ties between Israel and Egypt, which blame each other for the collapse of border security this week.

Four days after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians surged across the Gaza border into Egypt to buy food and supplies, Israel is facing growing demands to end its blockade of the territory. Israel shut its borders with Gaza a week ago, in response to a sharp escalation in rocket attacks by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. The resulting shortages of food and fuel prompted Palestinian militants to blow up the Gaza border wall on Wednesday.

Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian diplomat who is Secretary-General of the Arab League, blamed Israel in comments he made earlier this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"The occupying power has a responsibility for the welfare of the population of the occupied territories including, of course, (the) Gaza Strip," he said. "Therefore, whatever is happening is the result of a starving campaign, or a campaign to starve the people over there."

The European Union has also called on Israel to ease the blockade, describing it as "collective punishment."

But Israeli officials say the blockade will remain in place. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in comments also made this week in Switzerland, said there cannot be a situation in which Israeli towns are bombarded by rockets and it is business as usual on the other side of the border in Gaza.

"As long as the effort to terrorize the Israeli population will continue, we'll keep acting in Gaza and against the Hamas government," he said.

Hundreds of Israeli peace activists and Israeli Arabs demonstrated at the Gaza border Saturday, demanding an end to the blockade.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah movement controls the West Bank, will make the same demand when he meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday. He is offering to deploy his forces at border crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip, as a way of ending the blockade.

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