Fr Manuel Musallam, retired parish priest of the Holy Family Church in Gaza,  spoke this Easter of the sorrow of Palestinian Christians who have been blocked from attending the rituals of Holy Week in Jerusalem:

We lament Jerusalem, and miss its beautiful ceremonies. This year thousands of tourists will weep with us. They will not be able to march the “Way of the Cross” with Palestinians. There will be no national Palestinian folklore to discover or Arab religious crafts to take with them as gifts, and no local prayers, hymns and music to experience in the warm faith of believers in Palestine. They will be shocked entering the Holy Sepulchre to find Israeli police inside…

We are appalled by the continuous threats of more war. And we are distressed by the daily humiliation, hunger, thirst, unemployment and the absence of sustainable development in our country.

And the “threats of more war” are growing louder as Israeli leaders speak of  “another military operation” in Gaza after launching 13 air strikes on the territory which hit a cheese factory along with targets Israel claimed were military.  Similar to the situation in November 2008, tensions have jumped after Israeli forces crossed the border into Gaza in pursuit of several men they accused of planting explosives on the Gaza side of the border.  In retaliation, rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel – apparently against the wishes of Hamas who are asking for international intervention to prevent another Operation Cast Lead and also signaling that they want a halt to the rocket attacks.

Just this morning, more Israeli attacks took place:

Israeli helicopters opened fire on Sunday at Palestinian homes in Maghazi Camp, central Gaza, while bulldozers and tanks advanced into the eastern district of the village of Qarara, southern Gaza. Gaza radio stations reported that Israeli helicopters hovered over Maghazi Camp this morning and opened heavy fire at houses and farmland. No casualties were reported, but damage was sustained by some of the houses, it said.

In Qarara, Israeli troops executed an incursion into the eastern district of the village, supported by bulldozers and tanks. According to local radio reports, Apaches hovered overhead and also fired at Palestinian homes and orchards. Bulldozers destroyed agricultural land, but there were no casualties reported, it concluded.

Such attacks, launched at the same time Hamas is trying to rein in the rocket attacks, seem designed to increase the likelihood of more rockets and militant action which then become the “justification” for another Israeli Operation Cast Lead.

While the situation deteriorates again, Congressman Keith Ellison has been in Gaza meeting with local human rights and humanitarian groups – and calling for an end to the siege.

Yet the siege continues.  While Egypt rushes the construction of an underground wall to block the smuggling tunnels which provide the main source of supply to Gaza, Israel has announced two unusual shipments to Gaza. They will allow one shipment of cement which is desperately needed to repair houses and other buildings left in rubble by last years attack. This shipment however will only be enough for a UN wastewater treatment project.

The other shipment is ten trucks of clothes and shoes. These goods were purchased by Gazan merchants for sale in their shops but were blocked from delivery to them by Israel:

Gaza’s merchants, who imported the goods privately, said Sunday’s shipment was not enough to replenish their stocks and demanded Israel release more goods held at its ports since 2007.

“Some of it even smells bad. I can say half of the merchandise is still good, but the other half is damaged. I fear I may not be able to recoup my outlay,” importer Ziad Barbakh told Reuters while frantically inspecting his clothes shipment.

Merchants said they had to pay 2000 shekels (about $540) per month for storing their merchandise at the Israeli port of Ashdod for the last three years.