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Associated Press
An armed Jewish settler directs a car that was submerged in snow in the West Bank Jewish outpost of Givat Asaf, north of the West Bank Palestinian city of Ramallah, Sunday.

Gaza Strip receives fuel after storm batters it

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The Gaza Strip received its first shipment of industrial fuel in 45 days Sunday, bringing much-needed relief to the coastal territory battered by a rare Middle East-wide winter storm that left thousands in neighboring Israel without power and paralyzed Jerusalem.

A lack of fuel has hampered rescue efforts in Gaza, where thousands of residents fled flooded homes. The storm let up Saturday, but authorities in the region still struggled to clear roads and repair downed power lines.

While the rival Palestinian government in the West Bank can ship fuel to Gaza through Israel, Gaza's Hamas rulers have refused to accept the shipments, saying they cannot afford a new tax.

Palestinian border official Raed Fattouh said Sunday's Israeli fuel shipment was paid for by Qatar, an oil rich Gulf country that has aided Hamas in the past.

Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza since Hamas seized power in 2007. But over the weekend, Israel sent diesel fuel for heating and four water pumps as a humanitarian gesture.

Gaza power cuts have become severe in recent months following a coup in neighboring Egypt that removed the country's Islamist president, a close ally of Hamas, from power. Egypt's new military rulers have closed smuggling tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border that provided fuel to Gaza.

The United Nations said some 10,000 Gazans were forced to seek shelter in schools and other public buildings due to flooding. Hamas authorities put the number at around 40,000.

On Sunday, residents began repairing what they could, fixing leaky roofs, windows and cracks in the walls, and trying to remove water from homes.

"It's time for hard work, to restart our lives again," said Ihab Saed, 23, whose family's small home was damaged by rainwater and sewage.

One man died from smoke inhalation after burning coal for warmth in his house, health officials said.

Israel also was reeling from the weekend storm. Some 14,000 homes remained without power, the Israel Electric Corp. said.

Public transportation inside Jerusalem nearly halted as police asked residents not to drive, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

"This morning I want to go to work but I can't because you see all the ice on the streets. I can't move my car," said Jerusalem resident Itzchak Haringman, who helped push a taxi out of the snow before hopping in.

Police only permitted commuters to reach Jerusalem by public buses. Some 150 vehicles that got stuck in the snow on a highway Thursday night were being towed Sunday.

Four Israelis were killed in weather-related incidents, police said. Schools were closed in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In neighboring Jordan, King Abdullah II caused a stir by showing up to help push a car out of the snow Saturday. The king stopped his black SUV to help a stranded motorist, shocking his security guards, who scrambled to keep curious onlookers away from him.

Amateur video showed a crowd cheer Abdullah, who wore boots and a red-and-white checkered head dress.


Associated Press writers Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.