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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 00:26 GMT
Anger as UN debates Gaza blockade
Rafah has been mainly shut since June at Israel's insistence

Israeli and Palestinian envoys have clashed at the United Nations Security Council during a debate on Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian UN observer accused Israel of fuelling violence, while the Israeli envoy said his country had to protect its people from rocket attacks.

The council was considering a call for Israel to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza freely.

Earlier, Israel eased its four-day Gaza lockdown by allowing fuel deliveries.

But it has indicated restrictions may be re-imposed if rocket attacks continue.

Meanwhile, 60 women were injured, when Egyptian police broke up a protest against the siege and shots were fired.

It is the duty of all states to ensure the right to life and safety of its people
Gilad Cohen
Israeli ambassador to the UN

The police had fired into the air and used water cannon to drive back Palestinian women who tried to surge across the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

Hundreds of Palestinians demanded the crossing be reopened to allow the passage of vital supplies made scarce by the blockade.

And early on Wednesday, a Hamas militant was killed during an exchange of fire near Gaza's border with Israel, Palestinian officials said.

Residents near the closed Sufa crossing said Israeli tanks crossed into the Strip after the clash, Reuters news agency reported.

Talks adjourned

Tuesday's day-long council debate had been requested by Arab and Islamic states amid a growing international outcry at what the European Union termed the "collective punishment" of Gaza's 1.5m residents.

Palestinian UN observer Riyad Mansour said the council "must demand that Israel, the occupying power, immediately cease its collective punishment of the Palestinian people".

But Israeli representative Gilad Cohen denied that Israel was violating international law.

"It is the duty of all states to ensure the right to life and safety of its people, especially from vicious acts of violence and terrorism," he said, adding that Israel would "ensure the humanitarian welfare" of Gaza.

Israel imposed its blockade last week in response to rocket attacks from Gaza, and the UN had warned that food aid to about 860,000 Gazans could be halted within days as a result.

Libya, the council chair this month, had drafted a text that would call on Israel to end its blockade of Gaza and ensure "unhindered access for humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people".

Council split

But American and French representatives to the UN said the current draft was unacceptable as it did not refer to militant rocket attacks on Israel from within the Gaza Strip.


French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said the draft "ought to be amended to take into account all aspects of the deteriorating situation in Gaza."

UN under secretary general for political affairs Lynn Pascoe had earlier briefed the council and demanded Israel "reconsider and cease its policy of pressuring the civilian population of Gaza for the unacceptable actions of militants".

Israel has said the council discussions were one-sided.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blamed Hamas for the lockdown but said she had urged Israel to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

Israel allowed lorries to deliver industrial diesel for Gaza's sole power plant on Tuesday.

The Israeli foreign ministry said it would allow more fuel to be delivered in the coming days along with food and medicine.

'Futile launchings'

But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas labelled the move "insufficient" and called for a total end to the blockade.

He said civilians in Gaza were not responsible for the "futile launchings" of rockets into Israel.

The blockade forced the Nusseirat power plant to shut down on Monday, plunging Gaza City into darkness.

Footage of the scenes at the Rafah crossing

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