Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed on Sunday never to repeat the 2005 removal of settlers from the Gaza Strip.
‘We will not repeat this mistake,’ he said, referring to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to unilaterally evacuate all 9,000 settlers from the tiny Palestinian territory.
Speaking at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting at his West Jerusalem office, Netanyahu stopped short of advocating returning settlers to Gaza.
‘What was done cannot be undone. We can only conduct genuine introspection and say that the unilateral evacuation from the Gaza Strip brought neither peace nor security,’ he said.
‘To my regret, the opposite occurred and we know that Gaza became a Hamas base under Iranian control from which thousands of missiles have been fired, including the last campaign. In short, this did not bring peace.’
Netanyahu pledged to continue government benefits to the Israelis who were removed from Gaza.
Although the dismantling of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land is universally considered a precondition for any peace treaty, Netanyahu said that he does in fact want a peace agreement.
‘We want multi-lateral agreements based on two basic components: One, the genuine recognition of the State of Israel and two – of course – security arrangements, the honouring and enforcement of which will be assured,’ he said.
Israeli authorities said yesterday they would open all three commercial crossings into the Gaza Strip , a Palestinian official said.
Ra’ed Fattouh, a crossings official charged with liaising with Israel, said it planned to allow in 62-72 trucks of foreign humanitarian aid and consumer goods at the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Cooking gas and industrial grade diesel for Gaza’s sole power plant will be allowed through the Nahal Oz terminal.
‘Goods will also be shipped through the Karni crossing, which is often closed,’ Fattouh added.
Monday’s fuel announcement came the same week as one of the power station’s generators was shut down for lack of supplies.
Earlier, the Power and Natural Resources Authority in Gaza had announced that output would decrease to 55 megawatts, resulting in 30 per cent less available power during prime hours.
On Sunday, Egypt said it would increase its power supply to the south.
Kerem Shalom and Nahal Oz crossings were open on Sunday, while Karni remained closed since Saturday.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a near-total blockade of the Strip by land and sea since June 2007.
The quantities and types of goods allowed into Gaza are subject to tight restrictions, and reconstruction materials are generally not permitted except in special circumstances.
Many Palestinians have turned to smuggling items from Egypt through tunnels, although the industry is notoriously dangerous.
Israel bombed at least one tunnel earlier on Sunday morning, its military said. Two Palestinians were killed in accidents along the border in the past week. The industry is also illegal in Egypt, and its police arrested two Palestinians exiting one of the tunnels on Thursday.
Last Thursday Israel decided to allow a rare shipment of cement and iron bars into Gaza to allow the reconstruction of infrastructure damaged by the country’s military last winter. The materials were sold to the Palestinian Water Authority, which will use them to work on a sewage network project in Beit Lahiya.
Egypt opens its border with Gaza even less often than Israel, but on Monday it opened Rafah to allow residents to travel.
On average over the past year, Rafah has opened every three months or so for a maximum of three days.
Israel rarely permits residents to leave through its crossings, so Palestinians inside Gaza have to rely on the seemingly random orders from Cairo to open the southern entry point.
• A section of a main road collapsed in the Silwan area of East Jerusalem as a result of underground Israeli excavation on Monday, according to a local witness.
Jawad Siyam, a member of the local defence committee in the Wadi Hilweh section of Silwan, said the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem Municipality is digging a tunnel in the Al-Ayn area towards the iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City. After the street collapsed, personnel from the municipality and the Israel Antiquities Authority closed off the section of the road.
A similar collapse occurred about two months ago at Ad-Darat neighbourhood in the Al-Ayn area as a result of Israeli excavations.
Israeli archaeologists have been digging for years underneath Silwan, which they say is the site of the fortress of the biblical King David. The underground dig has also been made into a tourist attraction, where visitors can tour tunnels that run underneath present-day East Jerusalem.
The issue is sensitive because the Jerusalem Municipality has declared it will bulldoze part of the Palestinian neighbourhood to make way for a park.
Silwan is part of East Jerusalem, which is considered occupied territory by the international community, and it does not therefore recognise the legitimacy of Israeli control over the area.
Phone calls and emails to the Jerusalem Municipality seeking comment were not immediately returned.
• For the second Friday morning in a row, Israeli settlers planted trees in the Beqa’a Valley near Hebron on land belonging to a Palestinian family, according to a Christian organisation operating in the area.
The Christian Peacemakers Team said that at about 10:30am, a Palestinian farmer in the Beqa’a called to say settlers were on their land. The team said three of its members arrived just as the last three Israeli police officers were leaving.
Meanwhile, the head of the Palestinian family involved said a military jeep came at 3am and took some photos, then returned about 6am and sat waiting at the junction of the village road with Bypass Road 60.
Some 40-50 settlers reportedly arrived between 8-9am, along with about 20 soldiers in six or seven jeeps.
Settlers planted about 60 pine seedlings on the terrace directly above the family’s home, the Palestinian said.
The Israeli army protected the settlers and prevented the Palestinian family from talking to the settlers, he added, noting that the settlers left about 11am.
A representative of the Civil Administration (the Israeli military administration of the West Bank) reportedly told the family that the settlers should not be planting trees in the area, but that their requests were ignored.
The seemingly innocent issue of tree planting is sensitive in some Palestinian communities because under Israeli law, green hills are defined as nature preserves, and therefore are state land, the team said.
Since the 1930s Zionist groups worldwide have raised money in Jewish communities ‘to plant a tree for Israel.’
These plantings created green hills in what is now Israel, the West Bank, and in Jordan.
When asked why the settlers were planting trees there, one brother in the family said, ‘First they plant trees. After awhile, they put up a hut. After another while, they bring in caravans or mobile homes.
Then they build a settlement.’