(AFP) – Sep 19, 2007
JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel declared Gaza a "hostile entity" on Wednesday and said it would limit supplies to the Hamas-run territory, overshadowing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's latest peace mission.
The decision by Israel's powerful security cabinet cleared the way for the government to shut off supplies of electricity and fuel to the impoverished territory -- home to 1.5 million Palestinians -- in response to frequent rocket attacks from Gaza.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel needed to answer what she termed daily "terror attacks" on its soil from the Gaza Strip, as she explained the decision at a news conference with Rice.
"We made this decision according to our legal advisor, so it is according to international law," she claimed. "It is not going to affect the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip."
"The meaning is that even though when it comes to humanitarian needs we have our own responsibility, on the other hand all the needs that are more than humanitarian needs will not be supplied by Israel to the Gaza Strip."
An Israeli official said the cabinet did not take any immediate decisions to turn off the taps to the crowded territory but that the move "clears the way for the government to do so."
The decision came as Rice met Israeli officials ahead of a one-on-one dinner with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on her sixth visit to the region this year to try to revive peace talks and lay the ground for a US-sponsored conference.
Rice and Olmert held a three-hour face-to-face meeting over dinner at the premier's residence in Jerusalem and the two agreed to meet again after Rice's talks with Abbas on Thursday, an Israeli official said.
When pressed by reporters, Rice also described Hamas as a hostile entity but stressed that the United States would make every effort to deal with Gaza's humanitarian needs.
"We will not abandon the innocent Palestinians in Gaza and indeed will make every effort to deal with their humanitarian needs," Rice said. "Hamas is indeed a hostile entity. It is a hostile entity to the United States as well."
The Islamist movement won a sweeping victory against the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in January 2006 elections, but seized power in a bloody takeover in Gaza three months ago. It is shunned by Israel and the West as a terror group.
On Wednesday it blasted the move as "collective punishment" while a UN official in Jerusalem told AFP that the decision was "illegal".
Abbas condemned "this arbitrary decision (that) will contribute to reinforcing the asphyxiating blockade that is hitting 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and aggravate their suffering."
UN chief Ban Ki-moon also urged Israel to reconsider its decision.
"Such a step would be contrary to Israel's obligations towards the civilian population (of Gaza) under international humanitarian and human rights law," he said in a statement.
On Thursday, Rice heads to Ramallah for meetings with Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad before returning to Jerusalem for talks with Olmert.
Meanwhile, the Israeli defence ministry said late Wednesday that Israel plans to remove 24 barriers across the occupied West Bank in a bid to ease the hardships of Palestinians and boost Abbas.
"It is my very strong view that Israel and the Palestinians are showing their good faith in the discussions that they're having. Discussions that are getting ever broader and deeper," Rice said.
The talks "have now spurred the two sides to create negotiating teams that are to try and memorialise those understandings so the creation of a Palestinian state can move forward."
Rice told journalists travelling with her that a planned peace conference "has to, in a substantive way, support" efforts to "lay the foundations for the negotiation of a Palestinian state as soon as possible."
"I think everybody expects it to be serious and substantive."
The United States has not set a date for the conference, but has mentioned November. It is remaining very discreet on where it will be held and which countries will be invited to attend.
However, Olmert on Sunday dampened expectations of a major breakthrough ahead of the peace meeting, saying Israel and the Palestinians are working on a joint declaration rather than an accord of principles.
After their latest meeting on September 10, Abbas and Olmert reaffirmed their commitment to a two-state solution and appointed negotiating teams for the international conference.
Rice is to return to the United States for a series of multilateral meetings on Saturday organised on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
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