Israel wants to 'wash hands' of Gaza by handing over control to Egypt


Last updated at 17:41 24 January 2008

Israel today vowed cut its links with Gaza - by handing over to Egypt the control of water, medicine and power.

The Government made the move after militants in the Hamas-ruled territory blasted open it Egyptian border to defy the Israeli blockade.

After the explosions yesterday tens of thousands of desperate Palestinians poured through to stock up on goods in short supply - incuding Viagra.

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And today, a clearly frustrated Israel declared they wanted to wash their hands with the rogue territory which was taken over by Hamas in June after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah forces were routed.

Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai stormed: "We need to understand that when Gaza is open to the other side we lose responsibility for it.

"So we want to disconnect from it."

The statement is designed to frustrate Palestinian attempts to unite Gaza with the occupied West Bank as a single homeland, Middle East analysts said.

Israel pulled troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005 - but continues to occupy the West Bank 41 years after invading both areas in the Six Day War.

President Abbas today warned of "grave consequences" for an American-backed peace drive.

Egypt declined to comment on Vilnai's proposal.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said the current border situation was "temporary" and that "every option is under consideration".

Since yesterday thousands of Gazans have shuttled back and forth to Egypt for what one observer described as a "relay race shopping trip".

Some dragged sheep back over the border and a Hamas spokesman said the Islamist group had paid 16,000 government employees early so they could go shopping.

In Gaza City, prices that had shot higher due to shortages eased back and previously depleted market stalls in Gaza City were piled high with goods.

"Almost the entire population of Gaza are on vacation in Egypt," said Khaled Ali, a Palestinian policeman guarding the hole in the fence.

Israel tightened its cordon around the Gaza Strip last week, briefly stopping fuel supplies to the territory's only power station and blocking aid shipments as part of a campaign it said was meant to prevent cross-border rocket attacks.

The Jewish state has since allowed some fuel into Gaza but European and Western officials said it had limited deliveries in the past two days, leading to some power cuts in the enclave.

The plant's general manager, Derar Abu Sissi, said it may have to start shutting its turbines down again on Sunday night unless Israel approves a fresh delivery of EU-funded fuel.

The UN Human Rights Council said it deplored the "grave violations" being committed by Israel in Gaza, home to 1.5 million people, and demanded it lift the blockade.

Echoing Vilnai's comments, an Israeli security official said Israel wanted Egypt to supply Gaza's utilities and act as a base for aid groups serving the territory, adding the government was working on proposals to shift responsibility to Cairo.

Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's leader in Gaza, reiterated his call for Egypt and Abbas to meet Hamas in Cairo to secure an agreement to reopen Rafah on a permanent basis.