Israel breaks Gaza-West Bank access deal


ISRAEL on Wednesday defied the United States and the Middle East Quartet and decided to delay, reportedly until next week, the start of the bus convoys between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, thus violating the 15 November ‘Agreement on Movement and Access’ with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

According to the agreement, bus convoy traffic between Gaza and the West Bank was to begin on Thursday, December 15.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat deplored the postponement. ‘Israel will have its screening and security, so I don’t see any reason whatsoever to delay the operation of these convoys,’ he said.

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz decided to delay the start of the bus convoys reportedly until next week.

Chief of Staff of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), Dan Halutz, said on Tuesday that Israel would not allow the convoys until the PNA cracks down on the anti-occupation factions.

The US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, David Welch, said on Wednesday, that bus convoy traffic between Gaza and the West Bank will begin on Thursday as planned.

The statements of Welch came in a speech to a London conference of donors to the PNA.

Welch added that the United States expect the Palestinians and Israel to implement all of the aspects of the deal without any delays, and that the US administration will ‘help them to do so.’

David Welch met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza City on Saturday, December 10.

The spokesman of the US embassy in Israel, Stewart Tuttle, had no immediate comment on Mofaz’s decision but said Washington wanted to see the convoys up and running.

‘We would have liked to have seen everything begin at the target date, but if that does not happen, we will focus on doing everything possible to get it to happen as soon as possible,’ he said.

Israeli online daily, Ha’aretz, reported that the United States and other Quartet nations (the United Nations, the European Union and Russia) had stepped up pressure on Israel to implement the agreement even before the conference started.

Einat Wilf, who up until recently was a diplomatic aide to Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, has attacked what she described as Israel’s ‘zigzag policy’ over Palestinian convoys travelling between the West Bank and Gaza.

‘Israel’s security-diplomatic zigzag over Gaza is not healthy . . . In the long term, it damages Israel’s security interests,’ she said.

‘US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stayed here an extra two days because it was important for the United States to seal the agreement. James Wolfensohn and the Quartet know that Gaza under an economic blockade represents a security threat to the State of Israel,’ Wilf added.

‘The problem is not with the closure of the Gaza border to Palestinian workers, but with the ability of the security forces to prevent the convoys deal from being carried out. Israel’s zigzag over this is not serving her security interest,’ said Wilf.

Meanwhile, Palestinian leading anti-occupation activist Khader Habib survived an Israeli assassination attempt in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday hours after four other activists were killed and several bystanders wounded in a fresh Israeli extra-judicial killing by an air strike, amid reports that Israel has approved the construction of hundreds of new Jewish settler homes in the colonial settlements it built on the West Bank.

Islamic Jihad spokesman, Sheikh Khader Habib, survived an assassination attempt after an Israeli surveillance plane targeted his vehicle in Al Shuja’eyya neighbourhood, east of Gaza city. He was lightly injured.

Habib is also a well-known merchant in his 40s and was repeatedly detained by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).

Hours earlier four Palestinian activists, three members of the Popular Resistance Committees and a member of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, were killed and several bystanders wounded in a fresh Israeli extra-judicial killing by an air strike in eastern Gaza City.

Israel has killed seven Palestinian activists in air strikes on the Gaza Strip since the December 5 bombing attack that killed four Israelis and the Palestinian bomber at a shopping mall in Israel’s northern coastal city of Netanya.

The latest deaths brought the Palestinian death toll to more than 3,987 since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada (uprising) on September 28, 2000 against the 38-year old Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967.

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) officially condemned on Wednesday the killing of the four Palestinians, identified as Husam Abu Nada, Mohammad Joha, Rashad Rahim and Hamdan Mohanna.

Their car was travelling near the Karni crossing, the main cargo passage between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

An unmanned Israeli drone fired two missiles at the car, ripping it apart, witnesses said.

Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told reporters in the West Bank town of Ramallah that the air strike was an awful crime against the Palestinian people, which aims at obstructing all efforts to reinforce the Palestinian unilaterally-declared and observed truce.