The Gaza Ghetto: U.S.-Backed Humanitarian Crisis Deepens

UN Aid Chief 'Shocked' by Gaza Conditions

The top UN humanitarian affairs official, John Holmes, visited the Gaza Strip on Friday and said he was "shocked by the miserable things" he had seen.

Holmes, under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, was in Gaza on the second day of a five-day visit to the Palestinian territories and Israel.

He told reporters at a news conference that the misery he saw was the result of the current closed border crossings with Israel and the "limited food and other materials allowed in."

Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world and is home to around 1.5 million Palestinians who struggle against overwhelming levels of poverty and Israeli violence.

Holmes said he was concerned about the dependence of 80 percent of the population on food aid, widespread joblessness, problems with the sewerage and water systems, limited supplies of fuel and electricity and the shortage of supplies in hospitals.

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Israeli Human Rights Group Slams Israeli Military for Killing of Mentally Disabled

A human rights group called for an investigation into the death Thursday of a mentally disabled Palestinian man who had been wounded by the Israelis during a West Bank arrest operation.

According to neighbors' accounts, Israeli troops entered the town of Qabatiya before dawn on Feb. 7 to arrest an Islamic Jihad militant.

As the soldiers prepared an ambush, the mentally disabled man, 56-year-old Taysir Nazal, emerged from his home, the neighbors said. Soldiers fired three shots and hit Nazal in his legs, said relatives and a neighbor, Omar al-Sohu.

"They didn't call on him to stop, and after he was hit, they left him for a half hour," al-Sohu said. "Then two soldiers came and started to talk to him in Arabic."

The Israeli military said it was checking the circumstances of the incident and did not immediately comment.

Nazal was hit several times in the legs. Doctors operated several times and amputated part of one leg, but he died on Thursday, doctors said.

The Israeli rights group B'Tselem called for a military investigation. "From our research we see a pattern, a sort of norm … that is expressed in shooting when a door is opened or the soldiers think someone is trying to flee, when in fact the soldiers are not acting in self-defense," B'Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli said.

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Israeli Strike Kills 8 Palestinians, Including Women, Children

Eight Palestinians were killed and at least 50 wounded on Friday night when Israeli warplanes launched a raid on a building in the Gaza Strip, medics and witnesses said.

The Israeli aircraft targeted the home of top Islamic Jihad fighter Ayman al-Fayed in the Bureij Palestinian refugee camp south of Gaza City, killing him and two of his children, a boy and a girl, they said.

A woman was among the other four dead, the medics said, adding that the fate of Fayed's wife and three other children was not known.

Around 50 people, including around 20 children, were wounded when the house was hit by a missile, they added. Most were family members.

Apart from Fayed the dead and wounded were all civilians, the medics said.

The Fayed house was completely destroyed in the attack and at least 10 other houses were damaged by the blast, witnesses and an AFP correspondent said.

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Israeli Strikes Kill Four Palestinians

An Israeli airstrike killed at least three Palestinians and wounded 16 others Sunday in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Palestinian and Israeli sources said.

Another Palestinian was killed and 10 others wounded in an earlier incident in which an Israel Defense Forces unit opened fire on "armed men approaching the forces" in eastern Rafah, the sources said.

According to an IDF statement, there was a similar impetus for the airstrike, as "forces carried out an aerial attack against a group of Palestinian gunmen after they approached the forces."

The Ramattan News Agency, a Palestinian media outlet, quoted Palestinian security sources who said Israeli drones fired two rockets near the Rafah border crossing that connects Gaza and Egypt.

Three Palestinian militants were killed in the airstrike, said an Israeli military spokeswoman. Palestinian security sources said 16 people were wounded.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that IDF troops backed by tanks and air support clashed with militants. Palestinian Health Ministry official Moaiya Hassanain told Haaretz that three gunmen were killed in clashes as well as a 45-year-old civilian who was shot in the head.

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Olmert Says Electricity, Fuel Cuts to Gaza Will Continue

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the reduction of electricity and fuel supplies to Gaza will continue until Palestinian rocket attacks stop.

Mr. Olmert told the Cabinet a war is going on in southern Israel. He said Israel would not ease up on terrorist leaders until life along the Gaza border returns to normal.

Palestinian officials and the European Union have demanded that Israel end the sanctions, describing them as collective punishment.

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French FM Urges Israel to Lift Gaza Blockade

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner urged Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip and to freeze its policy of building settlements in the West Bank, at the start of a visit to the region on Saturday.

"The economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza is especially bad. The blockade directly affects the entire economy and living conditions as well," he said in an interview with Al-Quds newspaper.

"We call for the Gaza blockade to be lifted -- there must be free movement of both people and goods," Kouchner told the main Arabic daily in the Palestinian territories.

Israel has kept Gaza under effective lockdown since last June following the territory's takeover by the democratically elected movement Hamas, and on January 17 it tightened the blockade before easing it again slightly.

The Israelis say the measure is in response to rockets being fired at it by Palestinian militants inside the impoverished coastal territory.

The militants argue that armed resistance is the only way that would force Israel to end its long and illegal occupation of Palestinian territories (Gaza, the West Bank, and Arab east Jerusalem).

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Israeli Ministers Approve Plan to Fortify 8,000 Gaza-area Homes

A special ministerial forum on Sunday approved a proposal to fortify homes within 4.5 kilometers of the Gaza border in order to protect Gaza-area residents from the near-daily Qassam rocket fire from the Strip.

The proposal, first reported by Haaretz Sunday morning, calls for the building of a fortified "security room" in every eligible residence.

The forum's discussion, led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was attended by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, his deputy Matan Vilnai, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On, Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim and Minister for Pensioners' Affairs Rafi Eitan as well as representative experts from the Home Front Command and Israel's weapons development authority RAFAEL Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.

A budget of NIS 350 million was approved for the project until 2009.

The fortification plan, which still requires approval from the cabinet, encompasses some 8,000 residences, each of which will receive a security room of 9 square meters. In the plan's first stage, 3,600 homes without a concrete ceiling will be fortified, as they are more vulnerable to attacks.

During the discussion on the rocket-scarred southern city of Sderot, Olmert said that "we can't talk about the situation in Sderot in terms of people who have been physically hurt, because many have been hurt emotionally by shock and a sense of insecurity. I've visited these communities. It is very difficult to listen to the residents who are living under attack for many years."

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