Israel calls Gaza an 'enemy entity'
Israel's latest move has many observers doubting the chances of success for an upcoming US led peace conference.
Israel declared the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territory currently controlled by Hamas, to be an "enemy entity" on Wednesday. The move has created speculation that Israel may be trying to turn the general population of Gaza against the group. Additionally, with US led peace talks months away, Israel's classification of Gaza and an unclear agenda have many already doubting the meeting's potential for success.Skip to next paragraph
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The Associated Press cites Israeli Army radio as reporting that the country's security leadership took the latest step in response to rocket attacks on Israel emanating from Gaza. The radio report also indicated that the declaration will make it easier for Israel to squeeze Hamas and the residents of Gaza.
The decision would let Israel cut off vital electricity, water and fuel supplies to the Palestinian territory, which the Islamic militant Hamas group took over in June.
The action would be the most severe of the retaliatory measures Israel has taken recently against near-daily rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel. Israel hopes to force Hamas to stop the projectile attacks because Israeli airstrikes and land incursions against the rocket launchers have not been effective.
The response from Hamas was almost immediate. The Islamic political party called Israel's designation of Gaza an "act of war," reports Reuters. Hamas's reply is increasing tensions as the US secretary of state travels to the region to drum up support for the November peace conference, which she has promised will be "significant," but that regional government's and analysts say is unlikely to make substantive progress, especially considering the divisions among the Palestinians.
"It is a declaration of war and continues the criminal, terrorist Zionist actions against our people," said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas in the coastal enclave.
Hamas forces, which seized control of Gaza in June after fighting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction, have been bracing for a broader Israeli offensive, particularly since a rocket struck an Israeli army base last week, wounding some three dozen soldiers.
Haaretz, a leading left-leaning Israeli daily, said the designation of Gaza as an enemy territory is part of new Israeli measures designed to create hardship in Gaza that might lead average citizens to turn against Hamas. Israel said it would disrupt power and fuel supplies, but would not cut off water.
The security cabinet unanimously approved a number of sanctions to be imposed on the Gaza Strip should the rocket fire on southern Israel continue. The steps are designed to create "civilian levers" that will pressure Gaza's Hamas rulers to bring the rocket fire to a halt.
"The objective is to weaken Hamas," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said during the meeting, according to one participant.
Barak also said that Israel is moving closer to a large-scale military operation in Gaza. "Every day that passes brings us closer to an operation in Gaza," Barak was quoted as saying. He said an array of options would be considered before a major invasion.