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24 Jan 2008 11:12
Israel wants to cut its links with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip after militants blasted open the territory’s border with Egypt in defiance of an Israeli blockade, Israel’s deputy defence minister said on Thursday.
Israel, which occupied the Gaza Strip in 1967, pulled troops and settlers out in 2005 but still controls its northern and eastern borders, airspace and coastal waters, and has imposed a blockade it says is meant to counter militant rocket fire.
Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai said Israel wanted to wash its hands of Gaza altogether by handing over the supply of electricity, water and medicine to others. An Israeli security official said Egypt should take over responsibility.
“We need to understand that when Gaza is open to the other side we lose responsibility for it.
So we want to disconnect from it,” Vilnai said.
A spokesperson for Hamas, which seized control of Gaza after routing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah forces in June, said Israel was not exempt from responsibility “since the Gaza Strip is still an occupied land”.
An aide to Abbas said the Israeli idea could be aimed at permanently severing Gaza from the occupied West Bank, the other territory Palestinians seek for an eventual state.
Militants set off bombs on Wednesday destroying Gaza’s southern border wall in the town of Rafah, where Egyptian forces are posted, and allowing tens of thousands of Palestinians to pour through to stock up on goods in short supply.
Hundreds of Palestinians continued to shuttle back and forth across the border on Thursday.
Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri urged Arab nations to step up aid to Gaza as long as Israel, which has allowed some fuel into the territory but still blocks most goods, maintained its blockade.
Market stalls in Gaza City that were half empty earlier this week were piled high with goods while prices that had shot higher due to shortages eased back.
Israel tightened its cordon around the Gaza Strip this week, briefly stopping fuel supplies to the territory’s only power station and blocking aid shipments as part of a campaign it said was meant to prevent cross-border rocket attacks.
The Jewish state drew censure from the European Union and international agencies, which described the move as “collective punishment” for Gaza’s 1,5-million residents.
An Israeli security official said Israel wanted Egypt to supply Gaza’s utilities and act as a base for aid organisations serving the territory, adding the government was working on proposals to shift responsibility to Cairo.
“De facto, the Palestinians in Gaza are increasingly depending on Egypt for their needs. And that’s what we want,” the official told Reuters. Egypt controlled Gaza until the 1967 war.
A senior aide to Abbas, who is pursuing a peace deal with Israel and is under pressure to rein in militants, said he was “not happy” his Islamist rivals could now easily enter Egypt.
Hamas and other militant groups have been using a network of underground tunnels to smuggle weapons and explosives into the Gaza Strip from Egypt.
But another Abbas aide described Israel’s proposal for total disengagement from Gaza as “an old plan aimed at severing Gaza from the whole Palestinian body”, a reference to the occupied West Bank.
Abbas is trying to negotiate an agreement with Israel to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank—where he holds sway—and Gaza, with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital. Hamas’s control of the coastal enclave poses a major obstacle for the United States-backed peace drive.
Western-backed Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has suggested Abbas’s Palestinian Authority control Gaza’s main crossings—a proposal the United States has said must first be cleared with Israel, which has so far rebuffed the idea. - Reuters
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