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Rice calls on Israel to avoid crisis

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  • NEW: Rice blamed Gaza's Hamas for defying international community
  • NEW: Secretary of State urged an end to Israel's blockade of fuel from Gaza
  • Israel allows fuel and medical supplies into Gaza amid severe power cuts
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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- The United States has urged Israel to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza by finding different ways to punish Hamas, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday.

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Egyptian security forces use a water cannon on Palestinian protesters at the Egypt-Gaza border Tuesday.

Rice spoke to reporters aboard her plane en route to Berlin, where she will meet with her counterparts from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China to discuss a new round of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

"We have spoken to the Israelis about the importance of not allowing humanitarian crisis to unfold there," Rice said. "They've said that they do not want a humanitarian crisis and that they understand the need to permit fuel and electricity in Gaza, so we will see."

Israel allowed fuel and medical supplies into Gaza on Tuesday morning, ending a blockade that sparked concerns from aid agencies of a humanitarian crisis.

Rice was responding to a question about a call she received from Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit. He asked Rice to put pressure on Israel about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Rice placed the blame squarely on Gaza's Hamas leadership for its defiance of the international community. Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.

Rice said Israel was trying to respond to rockets from Gaza into Israel and the "terror and anxiety" that those attacks are placing on the Israeli population.

"I'm not surprised that this is a situation of tension. But I'm hopeful that perhaps people can look at different ways of dealing with Gaza," Rice said. "Nobody wants innocent Gazans to suffer."

Frustrations over the situation in Gaza erupted in a clash between Palestinian demonstrators and Egyptian security forces at the Gaza-Egypt border. Dozens of people were injured, Palestinian medical sources said.

Israel's Ministry of Defense said it will consider whether to allow further shipments after Tuesday's delivery.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss the Gaza crisis. Israel has said it will oppose any Security Council resolution.

"A situation in which the Security Council debates the plight of the residents of Gaza, while completely ignoring the situation of Israelis living under the constant threat of ... rockets, is totally unacceptable," said Aaron Abramovich, director-general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement.

Rice said the Mideast Quartet -- composed of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia -- is examining a plan by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for the Palestinian Authority to take a greater role in monitoring border crossings between Gaza and Israel.

"I think people need to start to try to think creatively about how to deal with the situation in Gaza," she said.

The Israeli government sent in cooking gas, medical supplies and fuel for power plants and generators, said a spokesman for Israel's Coordination and Liaison Administration.

Rafiq Maliha, project manager at the Gaza Power Generating Co., said that the plant had received 360,000 liters of industrial diesel -- enough fuel to run the plant at two-thirds of capacity for about 24 hours. He said he needed 500,000 liters on a daily basis to run at full capacity.

"I cannot operate the plant intermittently for one, two or three days," Maliha said. "This is electricity."

The Jewish state on Friday closed all border crossings with Gaza after days of rocket attacks in the southern Israel.

The lack of fuel, food and medicine has led to long lines at bakeries and left hospitals without heat.

Aid agencies warned the situation is "very precarious" and called on Israel to end the blockade to avert a humanitarian disaster.

Gaza receives about 70 percent of its electricity from Israel, and the bulk of the remaining power comes from a generation plant in Gaza. That plant relies on fuel supplied by an Israeli company.

Frustrations in Gaza boiled over at the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt, where clashes erupted Tuesday between Palestinian protesters and Egyptian security forces, eyewitnesses said. Video Watch as demonstrators rush the gate »

Several hundred female supporters of Hamas went to the border crossing -- the only one in Gaza that Israel doesn't run -- to demand that the gate be opened and that six Palestinians be allowed to cross for medical treatment.

Egyptian riot police stopped the people from going through the crossing and fired water cannons at the demonstrators, witnesses said.

After the demonstrators moved back on instructions from their organizers, young men headed toward the gate, and gunfire was exchanged.

When the Egyptian forces pulled back, some Palestinians were able to get through the gate.

The standoff eased after more than two hours.

At least 60 people were injured, according to Palestinian medical sources, who said demonstrators were beaten with sticks, hit by gunfire and attacked by police dogs.

The Rafah Crossing essentially has been closed since June when the Hamas political movement seized control of Gaza.

John Ging, head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, said earlier that the fuel shortage was putting a severe strain on Gaza's civilian population.

"We need fuel in Gaza. There is no other way to avoid a disaster," Ging said.

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He criticized the blockade, accusing the Israeli government of carrying out "collective punishment" of a civilian population, which he said is illegal under international law.

Ging called rocket attacks into southern Israel deplorable but said the Israeli government's reaction should be "proportional and appropriate." He added that Gazan civilians are just as much victims of the conflict as the Israelis. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Shira Medding, Kevin Flower, Talal Abu-Rahmi and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.

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