Impoverished Gazans Angry Over Israeli Blockade Vows

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, desperate for medical and other supplies, are watching the high seas confrontation between Israel and blockade runners with a combination of sadness and anger.

In the hours after Israeli commandos captured a flotilla of six ships in a bloody fight that left nine people dead earlier this week, Palestinians were furious.

Streets were ''packed with Palestinians, many headed out to the harbor where the ships were due to dock," Amjad Shawa, coordinator for the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations, told ABC News. "There was anger, sadness and shock. No one expected the Israelis to attack and commit such bloodshed.''

Shawa said that among the tons of supplies on the ships that were intercepted were 500 electric wheelchairs destined for paralyzed children.

''They didn't even want the chairs anymore when they heard what was happening. They just wanted the safety of the civilians on the ships,'' Shawa said.

Another attempt to run the blockade loomed today as a ship named the Rachel Corrie neared the blockade zone and Israel vowed to stop it from reaching Gaza's shore too.

Gaza's 1.5 million residents have been isolated and increasingly impoverished by an Israeli blockade since the Islamic group Hamas won election in 2006 and then forcibly took complete control of the enclave in 2007.

With virtually no economy, Gaza suffers with a 44 percent unemployment rate, and economic aid, food and medical equipment are desperately needed.

Tunnels on the border with Egypt are used to smuggle in goods which in the past have included sheep and even cars. But with a 15 percent tax on these items that make it across the border underground, many cannot afford it.

U.N. relief agency UNRWA's spokesperson Chris Gunness said that ''80 percent of the population is aid dependant on international systems such as UNRWA [ United Nations Relief and Works Agency] and the WFP [World Food Program]. "The number of people we call the poorest, people who cannot feed their families, has gone up from 100,000 to 300,000 in one year alone. Tell me, where else in the world that this would not be a humanitarian crisis?''

The Gaza Strip's public health system that finds it difficult to function under the blockade.

Gunness says that they are trying to get $20 million worth of medical equipment into Gaza. ''In the second largest hospital in Gaza the Gaza European hospital, only one lift (elevator) works. Can you imagine that in a hospital in North America where you have life and death situations?''

Israel Blockade Meant to Keep Missiles Out of Gaza

The anger caused by the isolation has united Gazans in their anger at Israel.

"These people were coming to help us, do something good for the Palestinians and this is how they deal with them? It's unbelievable," said Jabber Habib, who is in his early 20s. "Israel should by punished by the world for this massacre.''

Abdel Wahed Abu Shamlah is 100 years old and feels the same indignation. "No one could imagine that something like this could ever happen. Israel and the U.S. are responsible. I wish I were a rocket so I could hit the Knesset," he said referring to Israel's parliament.

Khalil Nassrallah, 40, compared Israel's efforts to enforce its blockade to piracy.

"When Somali pirates were hijacking ships, Israel said it would fight them and look at what they did... Israel needs to stop occupying and controlling Gaza so we can get help," he said.

The Gaza blockade has been criticized internationally. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said the blockade is "counter-productive, unsustainable and wrong. It punishes innocent civilians. It must be lifted by the Israeli authorities immediately."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used similar language this week, calling the situation in the Palestinian territory "unsustainable and unacceptable."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued earlier this week that if it allowed ships to enter Gaza, Hamas would smuggle rockets into the territory and that would put Tel Aviv and Jerusalem at risk.

Netanyahu has suggested that the Rachel Corrie head instead to the Israeli port of Ashdod to unload the supplies and Israel would allow items it did not consider a threat to its security be delivered to Gaza.

The Rachel Corrie's cargo, however, includes cement which Israel has prevented from going to Gaza out of concerns that it would be used to build defenses for Hamas fighters.