Thursday, January 24, 2008

Border breaks in Gaza

On Thursday, tens of thousands of Palestinians continued to flood into Egypt from the Gaza Strip after holes were blown in the wall separating the two territories. But is there more to this story than just a hole in a wall?

First a little background. The wall between Gaza and Egypt was built by the Israelis to control access to Gaza and to prevent terrorists and weapons from entering. As a result Gaza is almost entirely dependent on Israel for its food, fuel and energy supplies. Militants have been shooting crude, homemade rockets into Israeli towns from sites along Gaza’s northern border. Last week in retaliation Israel cut off shipments of supplies to Gaza, causing food shortages and widespread blackouts when Gaza’s power plant ran out of fuel.

The holes blown in the border wall have allowed the Palestinians of Gaza to get much-needed supplies in Egypt. Israel has condemned Gaza’s Hamas-led government for the act.

Israel withdrew their security forces from Gaza in 2005. But they regularly conduct military operations in Gaza, and in the past have found and blown up tunnels (supposedly used for smuggling) dug under the wall. Which makes it hard to believe that the wall could just suddenly be blown up in a way that allows tens of thousands of people to freely cross in and out of the territory.

A clue of what’s really happening may come from Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, who has suggested that now that the wall has in effect come down, Israel may gradually turn responsibility for Gaza over to Egypt.

This would remove a major stumbling block in the Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom the Israelis are negotiating, in reality controls only the West Bank and not Gaza, meaning any agreements made would only affect part of the Palestinian Territories.

But if Gaza is in effect turned over to Egypt, then any peace agreements could be said to only be between Israel and the West Bank portion of Palestine. Since Egypt would now be the only access point to Gaza (assuming Israel does not reopen its borders), pressure could be put on them to act against any terrorist activities coming out of Gaza since, in theory, the materials (and possibly terrorists) would have had to come from Egypt.

So far Egypt has only made limited attempts at sealing the border from their side. They are seemingly content to allow the Palestinians to enter Egypt so long as they come in no farther than the border town of El Arish.
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