Israel reopened border crossings with the Gaza Strip today, easing tensions a day after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a "last-minute" warning to Hamas militants to stop firing rockets or pay a heavy price.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said he ordered the crossings opened for "essential humanitarian" supplies, in response to numerous requests from the international community.
Palestinian workers at the crossings said fuel had arrived for Gaza's main power plant and trucks loaded with grain had crossed into the impoverished enclave, which has been under a tight Israeli blockade since Hamas took control in 2007.
Raed Fattouh, coordinator of supplies, said about 90 trucks loaded with grain, humanitarian aid and goods for the private sector were due to come in to Gaza during the day.
The deliveries may ease tensions that Israeli media said would inevitably end in significant military action to end rocket attacks.
Tension has mounted since a six-month truce expired last week and exchanges of fire increased. At least six militants have been killed by Israeli air strikes. On Wednesday over 80 rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza into Israel.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni discussed the crisis on Thursday with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, which borders Gaza to the west and which brokered the truce in June. Mubarak urged restraint on both sides.
At the same time, Olmert appeared on a widely-watched Arabic television channel, urging Gazans in an interview to reject their Islamist rulers and stop the rocket menace.
He said it was a last-minute appeal and warned he would not hesitate to use Israel's military might if they did not. About two dozen rockets and mortars were fired on Thursday, and later in the evening Barak announced the crossings would be opened.
Workers on the Gaza side of the Nahal Oz fuel depot said a delivery had arrived for the main power plant in Gaza, where shortages mean periodic blackouts for many of the 1.5 million residents, about half of whom also rely on food aid.
Despite the movement of aid, the shooting did not cease entirely. An Israeli military spokesman said the Erez border crossing, the main passage for people between Israel and Gaza, was closed after two mortar bombs fell in the area.
At least 10 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from Gaza on Friday, he said.
Israel withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza in 2005, and Olmert said it had no wish to re-occupy the coastal strip.
Israeli reports said no decision had been made on a major offensive which could involve ground combat likely to result in high casualties. But a phased, incremental response was likely if the rocket fire continued.Reuse content