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Last Updated: Friday, 25 January 2008, 03:13 GMT
Israel torn over relationship with Gaza
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Jerusalem

Palestinian shoppers crowd a street in the Egyptian side of Rafah (23/01/08)
Some Israelis say Gaza is becoming more of an Egyptian problem
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert delivered a keynote speech on Wednesday night presenting himself as an experienced leader in difficult times.

But notably absent was any mention of the tens of thousands of Palestinians crossing from Gaza into Egypt after the militant group Hamas blew up sections of the border fence.

Israel is closely monitoring the situation but is reluctant to use force to end the crisis, which would be likely to spark international condemnation.

Some Israeli officials, however, are publicly stressing that Egypt must take immediate steps to close the border.

"You can't expect us to be responsible for everything going on in Gaza when we're no longer there," says Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Arye Mekel.

Egyptian officials are saying that the border will be closed when all the Palestinians return.


This is not the first time that the border has been breached.

Following the Israeli withdrawal of its settlements and military from Gaza in 2005, Hamas blew up the concrete barrier separating the territory from Egypt.

As seen this week, many Palestinians took the opportunity then to stock up essential goods such as medicine and foodstuffs.

Later in 2005, the US and the European Union brokered a deal that allowed Gaza to have an international crossing but only for people and not goods.

But since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007, the crossing has mostly been closed.

Gaza has been subjected to an economic boycott which was intensified last week. Israel has said this is in response to continued rocket fire from the territory onto neighbouring Israeli towns.

Despite Israeli protests that sophisticated weaponry is being brought into the territory and that the border must be sealed, some Israeli officials view the event as an opportunity to offload responsibility for Gaza onto Egypt.

Egypt's role

Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai said Israel wants to hand over the supply of electricity, water and medicine to Egypt.

"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," said Mr Vilnai, according to Israeli army radio.

Some Israeli political analysts believe that if there was trade between Egypt and Gaza, it would be easier for Israel to close all its crossings into the territory.

"From Israel's perspective, Gaza is becoming more and more of an Egyptian problem," wrote Dr. Guy Bechor, a political analyst at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Centre Herzliya, in an article posted on a website.

"That is the real fruit of disengagement, something the Egyptians were quite leery of."

The UN, however, still considers Gaza as being under Israeli occupation - Israel controls Gaza's air, sea space and some of the territory's borders - and therefore stresses that Israel has obligations to Gaza's civilian population.

For its part, Hamas has called for urgent talks with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority on border crossings.

The Egyptian government will be wary of making major concessions to Hamas.

Egyptian officials are concerned about the strength of the Muslim brotherhood, which has strong support in Egypt and to which Hamas is affiliated.

For now, Gaza's border crossing into Egypt remains open. The goods may be flowing in but the resolution to this crisis is not.

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