January 21, 2008 / 11:45 AM / 11 years ago

Israel agrees to ease Gaza blockade

(Recasts with Barak decision)

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Israel agreed to allow supplies of some fuel and medicine into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip starting on Tuesday, easing a blockade that sparked international protests.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s decision will allow the European Union to resume deliveries of industrial fuel to Gaza’s main power plant, which shut down its two working turbines on Sunday, plunging much of Gaza City into darkness.

The Defence Ministry said Israel will also allow in diesel fuel for generators as well as gas used for cooking. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said restrictions would remain in place on petrol for cars.

The decision followed warnings by international agencies that Gaza hospitals would run out of drugs and generator fuel in a few days unless Israel allowed goods through border crossings closed on Friday in what Israel said was a bid to make militants stop rocket attacks.

"We hope Hamas has got the message," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel, citing a recent decline in the number of rocket attacks. "When they want to reduce the number of rockets, they can do it."

The Israeli blockade had stopped all U.N. aid shipments, including food and other humanitarian supplies, since Friday. (Additional reporting by Wafa Amr and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah and Adam Entous, Avida Landau and Rebecca Harrison in Jerusalem; Writing by Adam Entous and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Stephen Weeks)

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