Israel Violating Gaza Border Agreement

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Using the individual bombing attack in Netanya on Monday as a pretext, Israel is violating the Gaza borders agreement with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), imposing a closure on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, reported the Palestine Media Centre (PMC) on Tuesday.

The PMC added that ‘despite the orders of President Mahmud Abbas to pursue those responsible’ for the Netanya blast, Israel was also using it as an excuse for ‘resuming the extra-judicial assassination policy, and preparing for a wide operation in the West Bank and Gaza “that could last a month”.’

Four Israelis were killed on Monday when a Palestinian blew himself up in the northern Israeli town of Netanya, wounding at least 40 others.

‘Immediately President Mahmud Abbas condemned the attack and vowed to pursue the perpetrators’, said the PMC.

‘This operation . . . against civilians causes the most serious harm to our commitment to the peace process, and the Palestinian Authority will not go easy on whoever is found to be responsible for this operation,’ said a statement issued by Abbas’ office.

Abbas shortly later chaired a meeting of heads of the PNA security agencies in the presidential headquarter in the West Bank city of Ramallah and issued orders to pursue those responsible for the Netanya attack, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.

Earlier, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the attack as ‘another act to sabotage efforts to revive the peace process and to sabotage the Palestinian (legislative) elections,’ scheduled for January 25.

However, the PMC reported: ‘The Israeli government held the PNA responsible for the attack and geared up to use the attack as a pretext to absolve itself of the Gaza borders agreement with the PNA.’

‘The grave attack in Netanya is more proof of the ineffectiveness of the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Abu Mazen (Abbas),’ said Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

‘Israel will act against the terror organisations with all its might and all the means at its disposal. Israel’s response will be hard and painful,’ Shalom added.

The PMC added that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held consultations in Tel Aviv with senior security officials and was expected to convene his security cabinet on Tuesday morning to vote on a response to the Netanya attack.

The Ha’aretz daily said the Israeli military was preparing for a wide operation in the West Bank and Gaza that could last a month in retaliation.

Sharon halted preparations for a promised bus convoy link between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported late Monday.

The PMC stressed: ‘The Gaza-West Bank link was agreed on as part of a widely welcomed deal brokered by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month, and sponsored by the Middle East Quartet of the US, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

‘According to the deal the EU was accepted as a third party to operate the borders between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

‘Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz ordered Monday that Israel impose a closure on the Gaza Strip, only allowing the passage of goods via the Karni crossing and prohibiting the passage of Palestinian workers via the Erez crossing,’ Ha’aretz reported.

‘This step contravenes an agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the Gaza Strip border crossings, which allows Israel to shut down a crossing for passage only in the wake of an attack or warning directly related to that crossing.

‘In addition, if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accepts this suggestion he would be breaching a promise he gave US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and special envoy James Wolfensohn that Israel would refrain from imposing a closure on the Gaza Strip in retaliation to attacks in Israel proper,’ Akiva Eldar wrote in Ha’aretz.

The PMC added: ‘Other retaliation measures ordered by Sharon and Mofaz included a closure of the West Bank and Gaza imposed as from midnight Monday by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), sealing off the northern West Bank town of Tulkarem and its environs, stepping up detention raids of suspected Palestinian anti-occupation activists, and canceling of VIP entry passes to Israel for senior Palestinian officials.

‘Before the Netanya attack, Shaul Mofaz on Monday authorised the IOF to resume the policy of extra-judicial execution of Palestinians, dubbed by Israel as “targeted killing” of Palestinian activists in the Gaza Strip, an impossible act without the help of the Israeli warplanes and undercover collaborators.

‘Mofaz said the Israeli army was preparing to cross back into the northern Gaza Strip in the coming hours for a wide-range retaliatory operation against the Islamic Jihad,’ The Jerusalem Post reported.

‘In the West Bank, IOF troops will carry out “targeted killings”,’ he said.

‘Palestinian security officers in Tulkarem were ordered by the IOF to stay off the streets and take off their uniforms in anticipation of an Israeli raid in retaliation for the bombing, Palestinian security officials said.

‘Mofaz, speaking on Israeli radio, also said he was seeking approval to resume a policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinian bombers.

‘On Monday afternoon he appealed to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to allow the IOF to resume demolishing homes belonging to Palestinian bombers.

‘From the summer of 2002 to the summer of 2004, the IOF demolished 270 Palestinian homes, mostly in the West Bank.

‘Monday’s attack was the first suicide bombing in Israel since October 26, when a 20-year-old bomber killed five Israelis in the town of Hadera. The attack was the third on the Netanya mall since 2001.

‘In a phone call to the AP, Islamic Jihad identified the attacker as Lotfi Amin Abu Saada, 23, from the village of Illar, north of the West Bank town of Tulkarem.

‘A video released by the group showed the bomber posing with a grenade launcher and an assault rifle.

‘The Islamic Jihad said the bombing was in retaliation to ongoing Israeli extra-judicial assassinations of its activists.

‘The IOF troops early Tuesday sealed off and imposed curfew on Illar.

‘Meanwhile, a Palestinian official said President Abbas discussed the “security situation” with US Secretary of State Rice on the telephone, while calling on Washington to help re-launch the peace process.’

‘We’re working with both parties to try to keep matters on track,’ Rice told reporters on her way to Germany.

The PMC reported: ‘Separately the US State Department condemned “this vicious action of terror,” and urged that the PNA “must take immediate steps to prevent these attacks, to end the violence and to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism.”

‘State Department spokesman Adam Ereli demanded that Syria shut down Islamic Jihad’s offices in Damascus.’