Israel Sends Aid to Gaza Amid Invasion Fears

Israel has reopened three vital border crossings with Gaza, which is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and allowed trucks carrying humanitarian aid, including fuel, food and medicine to enter the strip where 1.5 million Palestinians live.

The move comes after renewed warnings from the Israeli government that the Israeli military will retaliate if militant attacks on the country continue.

In an interview with the Arabic channel al-Arabiya, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urged Palestinians to pressure militants to stop attacking Israel, saying Israel won't hesitate to respond with force. "Stop it. We are stronger," Olmert said.

But the rockets continue to rain down on southern Israeli cities. Hamas has fired at least 100 rockets and mortars from Gaza into southern Israel in the last week alone. While there have been no major casualties, the rockets have hit homes and terrorized residents. Hamas says the rocket attacks are retaliation for Israeli army raids into Gaza.

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The recent escalation in Gaza violence comes after the six-month truce with Israel ran out Dec. 19. Hamas issued a statement saying Israel had not "respected" the truce. Israel responded by tightening the blockade it imposed after the Islamist Hamas movement seized full control of Gaza 18 months ago.

Speaking in Cairo after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the failed cease-fire in Gaza, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni described the latest escalation as "unbearable."

"Enough is enough. … When there's shooting, there's a response. Any state would react that way," Livni said later.

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The prevailing feeling among Gazans is that Israel has allowed aid to enter the coastal city because it is preparing for a full-scale incursion. The front-page headline in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz today reads: "Army readies for 'limited' Gaza action as 22 mortars hit Negev."

Speaking to The Associated Press, Gaza resident Abu-Aslli said, "We are not afraid of these invasions and people in Gaza are steadfast and they offer 10,000 of great sacrifices. Even if only one person remains alive, we will protect our land, our holy places and our refugees, and this siege will not scare us because we are a great nation and capable of facing this siege even if there is one person left from us."

Israeli Cabinet Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the humanitarian shipments were intended to be a message to the people of Gaza that they are not Israel's enemy.

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"We are sending them a message that the Hamas leadership has turned them into a punching bag for everyone," he told Israeli Radio. "It is a leadership that has turned school yards into rocket launching pads. This is a leadership that does not care that the blood of its people will run in the streets."

The main border with Israel has been closed since November after a rocket was fired at Israel from Gaza. Until today, no aid has been able to reach the residents despite several calls from the international community and aid organizations.

On Christmas Day, Pope Benedict XVI used his homily at midnight mass to urge people to put an end to "hatred and violence" in the Middle East.

"Let us think of the place named Bethlehem, of the land in which Jesus lived, and which he loved so deeply. Let us pray that peace will be established there, that hatred and violence will cease. Let us pray for mutual understanding, that hearts will be opened, so that borders can be opened," he said. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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