No lifting of Gaza blockade without soldier visits, says Israel

Daily News Egypt
4 Min Read

JERUSALEM: Israel said Thursday it would not lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip unless Hamas allows the Red Cross to visit a soldier captured in 2006, a demand rejected by the Islamist movement.

International opposition to Israel’s four-year blockade of the coastal enclave has surged in the wake of its deadly May 31 seizure of a Gaza-bound activist aid flotilla, during which nine Turkish activists were shot dead.

But Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said "the minimal condition for lifting the blockade is for the Red Cross to be allowed to regularly visit Gilad Shalit," a 23-year-old conscript held in a secret Gaza location.

"As long as this condition is not fulfilled, there is no reason to change the situation," he added.

Hamas swiftly rejected the remarks, calling Israel’s linking of Shalit’s fate to the blockade and not the release of Palestinian prisoners "an attempt to mislead and cover up international efforts to break the siege."

The Islamist movement has said it will only release Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including several political leaders and top insurgents responsible for scores of deadly attacks.

Israel and Egypt first imposed the closures when Shalit was captured by Hamas and other insurgents in a deadly cross-border raid in June 2006 and tightened them when the Islamist group seized power in Gaza a year later.

Israel says the closures are necessary to contain Hamas — which is pledged to its destruction — and pressure it to release Shalit, while critics of the blockade say it amounts to "collective punishment."

The closures have severely hindered rebuilding efforts following Israel’s devastating December 2008 war on Gaza, which seriously damaged or destroyed thousands of homes in the impoverished territory.

Most consumer goods are brought in through smuggling tunnels from Egypt, but construction materials are beyond the means of most of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, 80 percent of whom rely on foreign aid.

US President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the humanitarian situation in Gaza was "unsustainable" and France has suggested reopening Gaza’s Rafah crossing with Egypt and its seaways with the presence of European monitors.

Hamas has said it is not opposed to a European presence on the border and that it would consider allowing the European Union to search Gaza-bound ships.

But French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Thursday that Israel’s response to the idea of EU oversight of Gaza-bound ships was "rather negative."

A poll meanwhile found that 73 percent of Jewish Israelis support keeping the Gaza blockade in place and 91 percent believe Israel should halt future flotillas trying to breach it.

The poll by the New Wave Research Group did not take into account the views of Israel’s 1.3 million Arab citizens, who make up nearly 20 percent of the population.






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