Dems press Bush on Gaza crisis

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A letter from 24 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives cites Israeli NGOs in urging President Bush to press Israel to expand humanitarian relief for Gazans.

"While we urge your administration to work to secure a viable ceasefire, it is critical that you also work with Israel to ensure that certain immediate steps are taken to meet humanitarian needs," says the letter sent Friday and spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.)  "It was brought to our attention by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, an Israeli human rights organization which monitors the state of Gaza’s infrastructure, that at this point one million people in the Gaza Strip are without electricity at any given moment."

Two of the signatories are Jewish: Reps. John Yarmouth of Kentucky and Bob Filner of California.

Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel lobbied Congress and the administration on Thursday and Friday in an effort to get Israel to expand humanitarian access to Gaza during the current war. A meeting at the State Department included top officials charged with monitoring Israeli and Palestinian compliance with peace agreements.

Ran Yaron of PHR-I and Tania Jary of told JTA that hospitals are ready to accept patients and supplies are set for distribution, but the three hours a day Israel has opened the strip to access is not sufficient to bring relief in or get patients out. International aid groups suspended relief for a day last week after a U.N. driver was killed and the Israeli army has not offered safe passage for first responders and groups delivering relief.

"One of our main messages here is to dispel the myth that there is no humanitarian crisis," said Hary, whose organization has petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to order Israel to save Gaza’s collapsing water and sewerage systems.

Israeli officials say the relief they are allowing in is above and beyond the requirements of a nation at war.

More than 850 Gazans have died since Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, ended a fragile cease-fire last month with a massive intensification of rocket attacks on Israel’s south. Half of the dead are civilians, Palestinian authorities say, and two thirds of those are children. Thirteen Israelis have died, including four civilians.

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