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Wednesday, 6 February 2008

The Strangulation of Gaza

The people of Gaza were able to enjoy a few days of freedom last week, after demolition charges brought down the iron wall separating the impoverished Palestinian territory from Egypt, allowing hundreds of thousands to burst out of the virtual prison into which Gaza has been transformed over the past few years--the terminal stage of four decades of Israeli occupation--and to shop for desperately needed supplies in Egyptian border towns.

Gaza's doors are slowly closing again, however. Under mounting pressure from the United States and Israel, Egypt has dispatched additional border guards armed with water cannons and electric cattle prods to try to regain control. It has already cut off the flow of supplies crossing the Suez Canal to its own border towns. For now, in effect, Suez is the new border: even if Palestinians could get out of Gaza in search of new supplies, they would have to cross the desolate expanses of the Sinai Desert and cross the canal, on the other side of which they would find the regular Egyptian army (barred from most of Sinai as a condition of the 1979 Camp David treaty with Israel) waiting for them.

Now that Gaza's fleeting taste of freedom is beginning to fade, the grim reality facing the territory's 1.5 million people is once again looming large. "After feeling imprisoned for so long, it has been a psychological relief for Gazans to know that there is a way out," said John Ging, the local director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). "But it does not resolve their crisis by any stretch of the imagination." More