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Israel briefly opens Gaza crossing amid shortages

Written by: Staff

GAZA, Mar 20 (Reuters) Israel reopened the main goods crossing into Gaza today following warnings of a looming humanitarian crisis in the impoverished Palestinian territory, but later closed it, citing a security alert.

Around six or seven trucks carrying flour and sugar went through the Karni terminal, Palestinian officials said. The amounts were insignificant compared to the needs of 1.4 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, they said.

Palestinians have reported shortages of bread and other staples in Gaza because of the closure of Karni, which handles most goods traffic with the Jewish state.

Moving a step closer to taking office, the Islamic militant group Hamas appointed loyalists to most positions in the new Palestinian cabinet.

Israel and the United States have tried to isolate Hamas and the new government. The European Union said it did not want to go ''soft on principles'', but added it would leave the door open for Hamas to change its stance on Israel.

Hamas is sworn to the Jewish state's destruction, a position it has maintained despite foreign pressure and threats to cut aid vital to keeping the Palestinian economy afloat.

Israel reopened Karni for limited shipments into Gaza after shutting it off sporadically in the past two months because of intelligence warnings of impending militant attack.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said the crossing was opened for two hours before being shut again.

''The crossing closed because of a security alert,'' she said, without saying when it would be open again.

Palestinians said it was operational for 40 minutes.

Palestinian officials earlier said limited openings were not enough to help ease shortages for 1.4 million Gazans.

''We were promised that starting from tomorrow, things will ease up gradually,'' said Salim Abu Safiya, the Palestinian security chief for crossings into Gaza.

A senior United Nations official yesterday warned of a possible humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Militants demanding jobs fought gun battles with Palestinian security forces in parts of the strip in some of the worst internal fighting in months. At least six people were wounded, police and witnesses said.

HAMAS TAKES KEY PORTFOLIOS The new Palestinian cabinet comprises 24 ministers, with 19 positions held by Hamas members along with some independents and technocrats. One woman and a Christian were included.

As expected, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a leader in Gaza whom Israel has tried to assassinate, was made foreign minister, according to the cabinet list, obtained by Reuters.

Another Hamas leader, Saeed Seyam, was made interior minister, putting him in charge of several security agencies.

Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh gave the cabinet names to President Mahmoud Abbas late yesterday, although he has not released the list publicly.

Abbas has withheld immediate acceptance of the government, but aides have said they believed he will not block it.

He has to call a special session of parliament for a confidence vote before the government can take office. Aides have said that will happen after Israel's parliamentary elections on March 28.

Hamas trounced Abbas's Fatah faction in January polls.

It has rejected demands that it recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace accords -- conditions for continued Western aid.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said the new government would manage.

''On the contrary, the greater the challenges are, the more the people will support Hamas against hostile Western positions,'' Abu Zuhri said.

In Brussels, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the new government would be judged on its actions.

''We are leaving the door open for positive change but we have to make clear we cannot go soft on our principles,'' she said.

The EU is the Palestinians' biggest donor, giving 500 million euros (0 million) a year.

Reuters SY DB2138

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