Israel Agrees to Ease Blockade on Gaza as Bakeries, Gas Stations Close

Israel agreed Monday to move diesel fuel and medicine into Gaza on a one-time basis, easing the blockade imposed because of a surge in Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. The shift came after the Israeli prime minister said Gaza's residents can "walk, without gas for their cars."

Israel and Gaza's Hamas government were locked in a public relations battle over the depth of the hardship, and the U.N. warned that international food aid could be suspended by the end of the week. An angry Hamas TV announcer shouted that "we are being killed, we are starving!" and Palestinian leaders issued emotional pleas for national unity, while Israel accused Hamas of fabricating a crisis to gain world sympathy.

Late Monday, Israel decided to allow some diesel fuel and medicine into Gaza on Tuesday.

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"We think Hamas got the message. As we have seen in the past couple of days, when they want to stop the rockets, they can," said the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Arye Mekel, confirming the decision.

Gaza's power plant shut down late Sunday, plunging Gaza City into darkness, and gas stations and many bakeries stopped operating. Health officials warned that hospital generators were running out of fuel.

"We have the choice to either cut electricity on babies in the maternity ward or heart surgery patients or stop operating rooms," said Health Ministry official Moaiya Hassanain.

International food aid may be suspended by the week's end if the closures continue, a U.N. aid agency spokesman said Monday, because of a shortage of fuel and plastic bags used to pack food. Most Gaza residents rely on food aid.

"We are going to have to suspend operations on Thursday or Friday," said Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which distributes food aid to 860,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza. The World Food Program, which gives food to another 270,000 Gaza residents, said it would also have to suspend distribution by Thursday, because they expected their fuel used to power distribution trucks to run out.

"We are all in a very vulnerable situation because of limited supplies," said John Ging, head of UNRWA.