View Full Version : Israel Declares Gaza An "Enemy Entity"

09-19-2007, 08:56 AM
Israel declares Gaza an 'enemy entity'


By LAURIE COPANS Associated Press Writer
Sept. 19, 2007, 7:26AM

JERUSALEM — Israel's Security Cabinet declared the Gaza Strip an "enemy entity" on Wednesday in order to cut off power and fuel supplies to the coastal strip, a move likely to cloud Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit on a peacemaking mission.

The group of top Israeli political and defense ministers did not set a date for a cutoff. A statement from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said Israel did not intend to provoke a humanitarian crisis.

Rice arrived Wednesday to mediate progress on key issues dividing Israel and the Palestinians before a U.S.-sponsored peace gathering. But even before she landed, Palestinian officials said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would ask her not to set a firm date for the peace conference until it is clear he and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert can agree upon a joint statement setting out their goals.

"President Abbas will ask Rice tomorrow not to set a specific date for the conference until they see the possibilities of having an agreement with Israel," an official in Abbas' office said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because Abbas and Rice had not yet met.

The conference tentatively is scheduled for Washington in November. The U.S. thinks Abbas has a freer hand to reach a final accord with Israel now that he has expelled Islamic Hamas militants from power for violently seizing control of Gaza in June. Abbas has set up a new government of moderates in the West Bank.

The Israeli Security Cabinet's declaration of Gaza as an "enemy entity" could become the most severe retaliatory measure Israel has taken recently against rocket fire from the strip into southern Israel.

"Additional restrictions will be imposed on the Hamas regime, limiting the transfer of goods to the Gaza Strip, cutting back fuel and electricity, and restricting the movement of people to and from the strip," a statement from Olmert's office said.

The statement said the sanctions would be enacted "following a legal review" and would be designed to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

Impoverished Gaza's 1.4 million people are almost entirely dependent on Israeli suppliers for power and fuel, and a cutoff would draw international condemnation.

"The objective is to weaken Hamas," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Security Cabinet meeting, according to one participant.

Israel's current policy of airstrikes and brief ground incursions has been ineffective. Barak said Israel was moving closer to a large-scale military operation in Gaza — an option that has not halted rocket fire in the past and would likely mean heavy casualties on both sides.

"Every day that passes brings us closer to an operation in Gaza," Barak was quoted as saying.

Hamas and Abbas' government both condemned the Security Cabinet's move.

"It is collective punishment against the people of Gaza, and discourages serious political discussion,' said Ashraf Ajrami, a minister in Abbas' government.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said his group would "confront the new aggression and escalation with all possible means." A cutoff of resources, he said, would doom the Washington conference.

"If the occupation government considers half of the Palestinian population and land as its enemies, how can we expect any results regarding fundamental issues?" he asked.

At the same time, a Hamas official said the group's exiled leaders in Damascus would meet with their Islamic Jihad counterparts to discuss the possibility of halting the rocket fire. He spoke on condition of anonymity because a date for the meeting had not been set.

The crude rockets from Gaza, which Israel evacuated two years ago, have killed 12 people in southern Israel in the past seven years, injured dozens more and disrupted daily life in the region.

Hamas' control of Gaza will burden Abbas as he and Olmert try to move toward a final accord. Their first step is hammering out a joint platform on the most contentious issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before the Washington conference — final borders, the status of disputed Jerusalem and a solution for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

The Palestinians hope the gathering will bring a solid framework for a final agreement but Israel wants to retain greater flexibility with a more general statement of goals.

On her way to the region Wednesday, Rice said she hoped conference participants would not only "sit and talk and talk and talk."

"It's extremely important from our point of view that it be serious and substantive," Rice told reporters aboard her plane. "We can't simply continue to say that we want a two-state solution — we've got to start to move toward one."

Rice was slated to meet Olmert and his top ministers Wednesday, and with the Palestinians on Thursday.

Olmert was to present Rice with an Israeli plan to ease travel restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank, Israeli officials said. The removal of two dozen dirt barriers that block villages is one of several Israeli gestures to bolster Abbas against Hamas.