Agence France Presse (AFP)
June 4, 2008 - 5:40pm

Around 100 Palestinians gathered outside the UN refugee agency's headquarters in Gaza City Tuesday to protest a nearly one-year-old Israeli blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory. The protesters, including a number of women and children, held signs saying "No more blood" and "Lift the siege from us" as they called on Israel and Egypt to reopen border crossings into Gaza.

Israel has sealed the territory off from all but limited supplies of humanitarian aid since Hamas seized power nearly a year ago in what it says is a bid to pressure the Islamist movement to halt rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel.

Bassim Naim, who heads the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, called for breaking the blockade and reopening the Rafah crossing to Egypt.

"More than 1,350 patients have been prevented from leaving Palestinian lands to receive treatment abroad, which has led to a large increase in the number of martyrs of the blockade," Naim said.

He added that medical supplies were running low and that Gaza, which is home to around 1.5 million Palestinians, has had no anti-tumor drugs for over two months.

The protest was organized by the Popular Committee to Oppose the Siege, a group close to Hamas which said that at least 177 Palestinians have died in recent months because they could not leave the Gaza Strip for medical treatment.

Hamas called on Egypt to open the Rafah crossing, the only gateway to the Gaza Strip that bypasses Israel.

"Despite the Israeli siege the Egyptian leadership could open the Rafah crossing and prevent more [people from falling] victim to the siege," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

Israel claims it is allowing enough vital goods into the territory to prevent a humanitarian crisis and has accused Hamas of exaggerating the effects of the embargo. Aid agencies hotly dispute the Israeli position.

Also Tuesday, several people on both sides were wounded in clashes that began with an attack on the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces.

An Israeli soldier was moderately wounded when troops clashed with Palestinian militants in southern Gaza, an Israeli Army spokesman said.

Palestinian witnesses said several tanks and bulldozers had rolled into southern Gaza east of the town of Khan Yunis and exchanged fire with Palestinian militants.

Hamas' armed wing said its fighters had fired on the troops and that the "Zionist enemy recognizes that one of its soldiers was wounded."

Militants in Gaza responded by launching five rockets into southern Israel, reportedly wounding at least five people.

"Five people were wounded, all of them in agricultural areas," an Israeli military spokesman said, adding that one of the rockets had struck a hen house and that two of those wounded had been Bedouin.

At least three Palestinians were wounded in an Israeli strike shortly thereafter, one of them seriously, according to Muawiya Hassanein, head of emergency services in Gaza.

The Islamic Jihad movement said in a statement that three of its fighters had been hit by an Israeli missile.

"The [Israeli military] targeted and identified hitting armed Palestinians preparing to fire rockets," the Israeli Army spokesman said, adding that they were in the same place from which the earlier attacks had been launched.


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