JERUSALEM – A U.N. aid agency Wednesday called on Israel to allow emergency fuel into the Gaza Strip to avert the shutdown of hospitals and sanitation facilities as tensions escalated between the territory’s Islamic militant Hamas rulers and Israel following an exchange of fire along the border.
Sirens wailed in southern Israel warning of incoming projectiles from Gaza and Israeli media reported two people were lightly injured from shrapnel in the border town of Sderot. One Palestinian rocket hit a house, media reported and showed footage of houses and cars pockmarked with shrapnel. Reports said it wasn’t clear if one of those hurt was injured by a rocket or by debris from the rocket defense system. The military said it identified eight rockets launched from Gaza at Israel and the Iron Dome defense system intercepted two of them.
Earlier, Israel’s military said shots were fired from Gaza at civilians working on the barrier separating the territory and Israel, damaging a vehicle. Israel said it struck a Hamas post in retaliation. No injuries were reported in Gaza.
The exchange of fire came amid continued attempts by Egypt to broker a broad cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas.
Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, in a news release called Israel’s restriction of fuel imports “a dangerous practice, with grave consequences on the rights of people in Gaza.”
Israel halted the supply of petroleum and natural gas to Gaza last week in response to incendiary kites and balloons launched from Gaza into southern Israel. Israel temporarily suspended fuel shipments to Gaza in July for similar reasons.
Israel has been battling large fires caused by kites and balloons rigged with incendiary devices or burning rags launched from Gaza that have destroyed forests, burned crops and killed wildlife and livestock.
The almost daily airborne arson attacks have been part of months of weekly border protests led by the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after it took control of the territory in 2007.
The demonstrations have been fueled in large part by pervasive despair caused by the blockade that has caused widespread economic hardship and left the coastal territory with crippling fuel shortages and just a few hours of electricity a day.
Over the past four months, 158 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including at least 120 in the protests near the fence and others in Israeli air strikes and other incidents elsewhere in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and a local rights group. Twenty-four of the slain protesters were minors, the ministry has said. One Israeli soldier was killed by a Gaza sniper during this period.
Israel says it is defending its border and nearby communities and accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the fence and carry out attacks.
Mahmoud Daher, of the World Health Organization in Gaza, said in a telephone interview “the situation is very serious.” He said by the end of the month, all fuel supplied by the U.N. will run out “and the problem is there is no sign of renewed funding from donors in the horizon.”
Associated Press writer Fares Akram reported from Amman, Jordan.