Emergency supplies to fuel UN aid efforts in Gaza

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Palestinian fuel distributors in the Gaza Strip agreed today to provide an emergency shipment to a UN aid agency that cautioned it would have to halt food distribution unless its trucks received petrol.

Mahmoud al-Khuzundar of the Association for Petrol Station Owners in the Gaza Strip said 50,000 litres of diesel would be delivered to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

UNRWA said yesterday it would be forced to suspend food distribution to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians today, citing a shortage in fuel supplies in the Hamas-controlled territory. UNRWA said the 50,000 litres should be enough to last about a week.

An Israeli official estimated storage tanks on the Palestinian side of the Nahal Oz crossing - the only border terminal used to pump fuel to the Gaza Strip - contained about a million litres of fuel. He accused Hamas of preventing their distribution.

The petrol station owners' association has been on strike, refusing to collect the fuel near Nahal Oz in protest at Israel's cutbacks in supplies to the territory.

Following UNWRA's warning, the European Union called on Israel today to ensure deliveries of fuel to Gaza.

"It is unacceptable that the UN should find itself having to consider suspending its humanitarian operations simply for a lack of fuel for its vehicles," EU aid commissioner Louis Michel said in a statement.

"It is also unacceptable that public services, such as garbage collection, sewage treatment, or hospitals are on the brink of collapse for the same reason," he said.

"It's essential that the fuel supply to Gaza is resumed, and in particular that fuel provision for the United Nations agencies, as well as basic services be guaranteed immediately."

Israel tightened border restrictions, while pledging to allow humanitarian aid to continue to flow to the Gaza Strip, after Hamas Islamists violently took over the territory in June.

Palestinian militants attacked the Nahal Oz fuel terminal two weeks ago, killing two Israeli civilians.

Israel allowed one million litres of EU-funded diesel fuel to be pumped to Gaza's only power station yesterday after Kanan Abaid, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Energy Authority in the Gaza Strip, warned the plant would have to shut down unless supplies resumed.

A European Commission official said there was enough fuel at the plant for about three days, but that it would have to shut down on Sunday if no new deliveries were allowed through.