June 20, 2007 / 1:10 PM / 12 years ago

Gaza could face food shortages in 2-4 weeks: U.N.

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Hamas-held Gaza Strip could start running out of flour, rice, edible oil and other commodities in 2-4 weeks unless Israel reopens the enclave’s border crossings, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Israel wants to isolate Hamas Islamists — economically, diplomatically and militarily — in the Gaza Strip, while allowing funds to flow to the Western-backed emergency government set up last week in the Israeli-occupied West Bank by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.

Worried Gazans have been stocking up on essentials, fearing the border crossings with Israel will remain shut following Hamas’s violent takeover of the territory last week. The World Food Programme estimates flour prices have risen 40 percent.

Israel plans to choke off all but humanitarian and basic supplies to the coastal strip, home to 1.5 million people, senior Israeli and Western officials say. Most freight passes through the Karni crossing from Israel.

“The re-opening of Karni crossing is vital to prevent general food shortages in 2-4 weeks,” the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report.

Seven truckloads of emergency food and three truckloads of medical supplies entered Gaza on Tuesday, and the report said the World Food Programme hoped to move 10 truckloads per day into Gaza through one of Israel’s main border crossings.

The U.N. agency which provides emergency food assistance to 850,000 Gaza refugees could run out of wheat flour reserves in 10 days, the report said.

The World Food Programme, which provides food assistance to 275,000 people who are not refugees, has seven days’ worth of emergency food stocks left in Gaza.

Access to basic food items has become more difficult for the 87 percent of Gazans now living below the poverty line of $2.40 in income per day.

The report said fuel supplies for hospital generators and ambulances will be exhausted within one week unless payments to Israeli providers are ensured.

Western diplomats and aid groups say Israel is trying to find indirect channels in order to coordinate humanitarian issues with the Hamas administration in Gaza.

Israel will not deal with Hamas directly because the group has refused to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace deals with the Jewish state.

Israel controls the land crossings between Gaza and Israel, as well as Gaza’s air space and territorial waters. Israel does not allow the crossing of people or goods by sea or air. It can also close the Rafah crossing from Egypt, which is shut for now.

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