UN urges Israel to reopen crucial Gaza crossings

THE United Nations urged Israel to reopen Gaza crossings as senior officials assessed war damage and the Jewish state warned it would strike again if Hamas rearms through smuggling tunnels.

“If you want to have reconstruction, you have to have cement and construction materials and pipes and spare parts,” said UN humanitarian chief John Holmes at a UN-run school hit by an Israeli missile in the northern town of Beit Lahiya.

“Everything has got to come in; that is one of the things we will be insisting on strongly [in discussions with Israel],” said Holmes who was touring Gaza along with UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry.

Since the bombing began on December 27, the army said it had allowed 2,284 truckloads of humanitarian supplies into Gaza, where the 1.5 million population relies on the border crossings for virtually everything.

“It is particularly saddening and sickening to see a school destroyed like this,” said Holmes at the site of one of four UN-run schools hit by Israeli strikes during the 22-day war that left much of Gaza in ruins.

Speaking a day after new US President Barack Obama called Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Serry said: “I very much hope that very soon... with vigour a peace process will be renewed because the only reasonable way out is a two-state solution.”

Hamas’s chief has called on the West to lift a ban on contacts with his Islamist movement, which is banned as a terror outfit by Israel, the US and most of Europe.

“Now it is time to start to talk to Hamas”, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since June 2007, exiled Khaled Meshaal said.

A senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that the Islamists will not be allowed to turn Gaza into a separate entity in the wake of the war.

“We will not allow the creation of a separatist entity, no matter what the price,” Yasser Abed Rabbo told a press conference.

Two women, two children and an elderly man were wounded yesterday by fire from Israeli navy boats patrolling the Mediterranean, medics said. The army said it fired warning shots at a fishing boat.

Gaza medics said the Israeli offensive had killed 1,330 people, at least half of them civilians including 437 children. Another 5,450 were wounded, including 1,890 children.

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