Thursday, August 31, 2006

Israel Closes Crossing to Press Palestinians

According to Haaretz, this is the first time that the army and Shin Bet are calling for a closure on grounds other than intelligence on pending attacks.

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM – While UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged on Wednesday, August 30, a halt to the Gaza onslaught and lift of crippling closure, Haaretz said Israel closes the Rafah crossing to lay pressures on Palestinians to free a captured Israeli soldier.

"We oppose the opening of the crossing, even for a few hours, so long as the matter of the abducted soldier remains unchanged," Shin Bet told representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the customs and the ports authorities and advisers to Defense Minister Amir Peretz, according to a transcript obtained by Haaretz.

"Pressure on this matter must remain in place at this stage," insisted Israel's internal spy agency.

The Israeli army also agreed that Rafah crossing, Gaza's only window to the outside world, "should be opened on occasion only after the kidnapped soldier is released and the shooting from the Gaza Strip stops."

It wants to use the crossing "as a means of applying pressure."

Under an agreement signed in 2005, the crossing is run under Palestinian and Egyptian management and supervised by 70 European Union observers.

In practice Israel closes the crossing at will, on the pretext of "intelligence of an imminent attack."

This automatically prevents the European observers from reaching the crossing - which ensures that it remains closed.

According to Haaretz, this is the first time that the army and Shin Bet are calling for a closure on grounds other than intelligence on pending attacks.

During her visits to Israel, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed that the crossing must be kept open as stipulated by the signed agreements.

More Killing

During a lightning visit to the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, the seat of the PA, Annan asked Israel to lift its crippling siege.

"The closure of Gaza must be lifted, the crossing points must be opened," he told a news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The UN chief also professed for an end of the open-ended Israeli onslaught.

"Two hundred Palestinians have been killed since the end of June," he regretted. "This must stop immediately."

Annan also called for an end to the firing or Palestinian rockets into Israel, asking Tel Aviv to free Palestinian parliamentarians and officials held during the offensive, which was unleashed on June 28.

Israel launched the massive operation on the pretext of securing the release of a taken prisoner by Palestinian factions in a cross-border raid on June 25 that left two other soldiers dead.

The UN chief's remarks came as Israeli occupation forces killed nine Palestinians, mostly civilians.

Eight died in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, where Israeli soldiers have been operating since late Saturday.

They included a 14-year-old boy shot in the chest, two men in their 30s also gunned down and five others who died from tank fire, medical officials said.

In the occupied West Bank, Hossam Jaradat, the head of the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, died from wounds sustained during an Israeli commando operation on August 23.

Wednesday's deaths bring to 19 the number of Palestinians killed in the Shejaiya neighborhood since Saturday.

The two-month Israeli offensive has claimed the lives of 204n Palestinians, mostly civilians, and left Gaza riddled with power shortages after its power plant was bombed out.

© + Agencies

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