Hamas: Israeli move "a declaration of war"


By Wafa Amr
Mon Apr 10, 2006 10:43 AM ET

RAMALLAH (Reuters) - Hamas said it considered Israel's severing of contacts with the new Palestinian government "a declaration of war" and President Mahmoud Abbas accused the Jewish state of breaking international law.

In statements issued in quick succession on Monday, election rivals Hamas and Abbas denounced Israel for branding the Palestinian Authority a "hostile entity" and suspending security coordination.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement in Gaza that Israel's decision to sever contacts with the Palestinian Authority amounted to "a declaration of war and a failed attempt to cause internal divisions among Palestinians".

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas said Israel's position "completely violates the agreements we have signed with them and violates international law".

"We demand from this Israeli government to stop such measures", Abbas said.

With foreign ministers from the European Union poised to endorse a freeze in direct aid to the new government, thousands of Palestinians poured onto the streets of Gaza in protest.

Israel has stepped up strikes in Gaza since election victor Hamas took control of the Palestinian Authority in late March. The group, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, crushed Abbas's Fatah movement in an election in January.

A shell landed near a house in north Gaza on Monday, wounding two Palestinians, witnesses said.

Israel says the shelling is meant to combat rocket attacks by militants, and Avi Dichter, a top adviser to interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, told Israel radio that a ground assault of Gaza could not be ruled out.

"We have done it in the past and can do so in the present," said Dichter, who may be appointed to a senior security post in Olmert's new cabinet.

Having ruled out contacts with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, the army moved on Monday to suspend remaining security coordination.

At a joint coordination office near the West Bank city of Jericho, Palestinian Colonel Khaled Ziyar and his men piled their belongings on to a pick-up truck and turned keys to the facility over to the Israelis.

The Palestinian officers took down posters of Abbas and a Palestinian flag.

The Jericho district coordination office, located on the outskirts of Jericho, was the last security facility to be manned by both Israelis and Palestinians. In other parts of the West Bank, cooperation was done by telephone.

As part of its new policy, Israel blocked Brigadier General Ala Hosni, who heads the Gaza police, and several other Palestinian officials from moving between Gaza and the West Bank on Monday.

Palestinians lined up in a desperate attempt to get travel permits at civil administration offices in the West Bank but most were turned away.

Hamas officials said Israel's decision -- and newly announced cuts in direct Western aid to the Palestinian Authority -- amounted to collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

"This is an injustice, and we call on the European countries to reconsider their decision," Ahmed Bahar, deputy speaker of the Hamas-led Palestinian parliament, told a rally in Gaza.

Earlier on Monday, Palestinian children threw eggs at U.N. offices in Gaza in protest.

Hamas is sworn to destroy Israel but has largely abided by a year-old ceasefire that other militant groups have ignored.

Israel has vowed not to negotiate with Hamas unless it recognizes the Jewish state's right to exist, renounces violence and accepts interim peace deals. Hamas says talks with Israel would be futile.

Israel has halted the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, but it said it would allow the funds to be used to pay the authority's debts to Israeli utilities.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Adam Entous in Jerusalem)