Gaza marked the first anniversary of the start of Israel’s historic pullout from the coastal strip on Tuesday amid bitterness that the end of the Zionist settlements did not bring an end to occupation and bloodshed.
At midnight on August 15, 2005, Israel began withdrawing 8,000 Jewish settlers and thousands of Israeli troops from Gaza, the start of a month-long operation to end the Jewish state’s 38-year occupation.
A year later the Palestinian residents in the impoverished strip of land continue to die from Israeli fire and the economy is in a shambles.
‘They say they withdrew, but the occupation is going on in Gaza,’ said Abu Yasser, 50, a shop owner in Gaza City. ‘They’re still everywhere and the killing and the shelling is continuing despite the withdrawal.’
Israel was shocked when the Hamas movement was swept to power in January’s Palestinian elections.
Israel and the West decided to cut off aid to the Palestine National Authority until the Hamas-led government recognised Israel’s right to exist.
And on June 28, Israel launched a massive offensive into Gaza, three days after militants killed two soldiers and seized a third during a cross-border raid.
Since then, at least 175 Palestinians have been killed in the strikes, many of them civilians.
Al-Alhi hospital worker Said Elyas, said in Gaza City: ‘We thought that the situation would get better. . . we thought that there would be freedom of movement. . . after the liberation of Gaza.’
‘But the opposite happened. The situation is the worst we have ever faced. And the Israeli aggression has become more cruel – we are in a new prison called Gaza.’
The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) warned against an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, after announcing the cease-fire in Lebanon on Monday, ahead of scheduled talks between President Mahmud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniya in Gaza City on Tuesday over forming a new national unity government.
Abbas’ adviser, Nimr Hamad, said the president would try to persuade the ruling Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, and other anti-Israeli occupation factions to stop firing primitive home-made rockets at Israeli targets from the Gaza Strip and to release Corporal Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured on June 25.
‘At the first possible opportunity we must strive to set up a government of national unity,’ Abbas told reporters in Jordan ahead of returning to the West Bank at the end of an Arab tour.
The creation of a Palestinian national unity government has been delayed by the Israeli offensive on Gaza and the situation in Lebanon, he added.
Speaking to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Palestinian prime minister Haniya said his government has ‘no qualms about negotiating with Israel,’ and is ready to enter into a long-term truce involving all Palestinian factions.
Separately he told a Palestinian cabinet meeting in Gaza on Monday that an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip was a serious threat after announcing the cease-fire in Lebanon, which took effect at 8.00am Monday and seemed to be holding on Tuesday.
He cited as a motive Israel’s desire to score imaginary victories and achievements at the expense of the unarmed Palestinian people after its inconclusive military offensive in Lebanon.
The spokesman for the Palestinian government, Ghazi Hamad, told reporters that ending the Israeli onslaught, which began on June 26, and the release of more than 60 Palestinian cabinet ministers and lawmakers who were kidnapped by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) were essential for a national unity government to function.
He urged the international community to intervene.
‘Even if we change the government today and the circumstances remain as they are, how feasible is that?
‘The problem is not in the make-up of the Palestinian government, but in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and its actions which aim to destroy any meaningful Palestinian effort to build an independent Palestinian state,’ Hamad said.
The PNA Hamas-led government said on Monday that it was studying the implications of the Hezbollah victory in Lebanon and warned that the presence of IOF soldiers in southern Lebanon would lead to more violence.
‘The conflict could resume and even deteriorate into a regional war,’ said PNA Information Minister, Yusef Rizkah.
He added: ‘The war has taught us that resistance should be a key factor in resolving the problems of Lebanon and Palestine.
‘If anything, this war has shattered the myth of the invincible Israeli army and shown that the Israelis are unable to confront the strong determination and will of Muslim fighters.’
Also last Monday, PNA President Abbas received, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, the envoy of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Lord Levy, the British General Consul in Jerusalem, John Jenkins, and the French Consul General in Jerusalem, Alain Rémy and the Chargé d’Affaires of the French Consul General in Jerusalem.
Last Sunday he received in Ramallah the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and the EU Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, Marc Otté, and urged European involvement in reactivating Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.
The latest developments in the region, especially the situation in Gaza, the necessity to reopen Rafah Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and reaching a Palestinian – Israeli cease-fire, were also discussed during the meeting.
Head of the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, Saeb Erekat, told a joint press conference with Solana the meeting also discussed the ‘almost forgotten war on Gaza’ and the situation in Lebanon and the possibility of a PNA-Israel cease-fire.
During a separate meeting with Solana the same day in Jericho, Erekat called on the European Union (EU) to launch a comprehensive political process to lay the foundations of a lasting comprehensive solution in the Middle East.
Solana stressed the international community and the EU’s support to President Abbas, pointing out the Palestinian cause is the basis of conflict in the Middle East.