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Israel Begins Reducing Fuel Supplies to Gaza

Israeli officials have begun reducing fuel supplies to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. VOA's Jim Teeple reports Israel has also closed a key crossing point as part of a package of sanctions Israel says is in response to Palestinian militants firing rockets into southern Israel.

Israeli officials say they plan to reduce the amount of fuel entering Gaza by five to 11 percent but that the cuts will not affect fuel for the main power plant in Gaza.

Last month Israeli officials declared the Gaza Strip a "hostile territory" and unveiled plans to cut fuel supplies and electricity to Gaza because of daily rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled territory aimed at southern Israel. Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, says the cutbacks are in response to a very real threat from Gaza.

"We think that the people of Gaza and the regime that controls Gaza (Hamas) has to understand a simple reality - that if rockets are being shot on a daily basis into Israel - if they are trying to kill our people - if the people in southern Israel are living in fear in bomb shelters because of these ongoing volleys of rockets - day after day," he said. "They cannot expect that Israel will go ahead with business as usual while our citizens continue face this terrible threat."

Israeli officials say for now they will not cut electrical supplies to Gaza, until Israel's Supreme Court rules on a petition by human rights groups challenging the proposed measure. A ruling is expected within days.

In a related move, Israel has announced it is closing one of two remaining crossing points between the Gaza Strip and Israel used to transfer humanitarian assistance to the territory. Israel closed all commercial crossing points in June, after Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip. John Ging directs U.N. relief operations in Gaza. He says he does not believe the cutoff of fuel, and the closing of the crossing point will succeed in ending rocket fire from the territory.

"The combination is going to have an impact on the already dreadful humanitarian situation on the ground," he said. "In addition, the stated purpose of all of this is to try and put pressure on, to bring an end to rocket fire into Israel, which we repeatedly condemn. But doing it in this way, which is essentially collectively punishing the population for firing these rockets into Israel will not succeed. In fact what we suspect it will engender more hostility among the population of Gaza."

Hamas leaders who control Gaza say they will study the effects of the Israeli cutoff of fuel and then act accordingly. Hamas admits to attacking Israeli troops on the Gaza border, but says it is not behind the continuing rocket fire which is being carried out by other Palestinian militant groups such as Islamic Jihad. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the Israeli measures, calling them a violation of international law.