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Gazans queue for bread as shortages loom

Written by: Staff
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GAZA, Mar 17 (Reuters) Hundreds of Palestinians lined up outside bakeries in Gaza today to buy bread as shop owners complained they were running out of flour because of Israel's closure of a commercial crossing into the strip.

Outside one bakery in Gaza City, at least 70 Palestinians jostled and pushed each other to get bread. The owner said he had to limit the quantities people could buy.

Israel has been closing Karni, the main commercial crossing with Gaza, on and off for the last two months, citing security concerns. It has said the closures were not a response to the election victory of Hamas Islamic militants in January.

Palestinians have complained of looming shortages of many basic food stuffs while UN agencies have warned that stocks were running low and prices skyrocketing.

Hisham al-Shanti, owner of one of the largest bakeries in Gaza City, said he had enough flour for one more day.

''If the crossing continues to be closed, we will shut the doors of the bakery,'' Shanti told Reuters.

An Israeli army spokesman said Karni had been closed again on March 13 after being open for several days. There were no immediate plans to reopen it, he said.

An Israeli security source said an alternative crossing at Kerem Shalom could be used from Sunday to transport goods in and out of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians have rejected such alternatives in the past.

Palestinians said the crossing has not been kept open long enough to make up for the previous closures.

Many shopkeepers said they had run out of flour sacks. Some Palestinians said they had travelled the entire narrow strip in a fruitless hunt.

A sack of flour, if found, was selling for 95 shekels (.30) from 70 shekels before the closures. A sack of rice was 180 shekels (.5) from 100 shekels.

Many shops have run out of other food such as dairy products.

The Karni closures and food shortages have heightened the fears of ordinary Palestinians about future restrictions Israel might impose when Hamas takes power. Hamas is expected to present a government to President Mahmoud Abbas tomorrow.

''We are afraid and we have concerns. We believe things will be unfair,'' said Ahlam Ali, 35-year-old teacher, waiting in one bread line.

''We believe all this was because Hamas won. Punishment will not push people to hate Hamas but it will push them to hate Israel and the world, which is watching in silence.'' Israel and the United States have ruled out negotiating with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognises Israel's existence and agrees to abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

The Jewish state has cut tax transfers to the Palestinians while many Western aid groups are reviewing their programmes in the wake of the Hamas election victory.

Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction and said talks with the Jewish state would be a waste of time.

REUTERS SHR KP2154

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