Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Israel still in control of Gaza envoy says

The international Middle East envoy, James Wolfensohn, has accused Israel of behaving as if it has not withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, by blocking its borders and failing to fulfil commitments to allow the movement of Palestinians and goods.





Mr Wolfensohn, the special envoy of the "Quartet" of the US, UN, EU and Russia overseeing the "road map" peace plan, said Israel continued to block the free movement of Palestinians between the strip and Egypt, even though they do not enter Israel. "The government of Israel, with its important security concerns, is loath to relinquish control, almost acting as though there has been no withdrawal, delaying making difficult decisions and preferring to take difficult matters back into slow-moving subcommittees," he wrote in a letter earlier this month to Quartet members.

Israel has almost entirely sealed off the Gaza Strip since its withdrawal on September 12. Hundreds of Palestinian workers who used to enter Israel each day via the Erez crossing in the north are not now allowed to do so, and the Karni cargo crossing has been closed, except to allow Israelis to import palm leaves for Jewish religious ceremonies earlier this month.

However, Mr Wolfensohn's principal complaint concerns the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, the only way for most Palestinians to leave and enter the territory. Israel has refused to allow the crossing to reopen, except for periodic humanitarian considerations. "The Israelis have not agreed to accept the EU's generous offer to consider the role of a third party to supervise the crossing," he said. Israel is also blocking the implementation of a proposal by Mr Wolfensohn and the World Bank for a temporary system of convoys to move Palestinians and goods lorries between Gaza and the West Bank.

In an accompanying report to the Quartet, Mr Wolfensohn warned that the lack of agreement was undermining the prospects for rebuilding Gaza. "Without a dramatic improvement in Palestinian movement and access, within appropriate security arrangements for Israel, the economic revival essential to a resolution of the conflict will not be possible," the report said.

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