Palestinians demand end to eight-year blockade
Egypt backs negotiators’ demand for lifting of Israeli siege of Gaza
Palestinians gather at a cleaning materials factory that caught fire after it was hit by Israeli air strikes west of Gaza City yesterday. Photograph: Mohammed Saber/EPA
As their price for peace in Gaza, the Palestinians demand an end to Israel’s tight eight-year siege and blockade of the strip and the opening of all crossings between Israel and Gaza and Egypt and Gaza.
Egypt has fully backed the Palestinian demand for the lifting of the Israeli siege “in accordance with Israel’s obligations as an occupation force,” but Cairo also insists that the opening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt is a separate issue to be negotiated on a bilateral level.
Palestinians want a free passage between Gaza and the West Bank, and insist that reconstruction material and machinery be allowed into Gaza without restrictions.
Palestinian fishermen, now allowed to go only three nautical miles out to sea, should be permitted to cast their nets 12 nautical miles from the coast. Farmers must be allowed to tend their crops to the fence along the Gaza-Israel border. Israel has declared a band of territory 3km wide a buffer zone from which Palestinians are excluded, depriving them of 44 per cent of the land.
Palestinians also insist on the release of rearrested Palestinians who had been freed in the 2011 exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas affiliates in 2006. Israel had pledged not to detain them again.
The Palestinians also demand that Israel permit the opening of Gaza’s airport, destroyed by Israeli air strikes in 2002, and its port.
Qais Abdel Karim of the Democratic Front said: “There are many proposals but now is not the time to speak about them. The proposals are complicated. Different aspects of the proposals still have to be negotiated.”
For example, he said, the Palestinians insist on a sea port and airport in Gaza. “For the Israelis they do not exist.
“Our demand is for the reactivation of a 1994 agreement on the port and airport under control of the Palestinian National Authority,” which administers Palestinian West Bank enclaves. “This agreement was implemented until 2002,” when the second intifada erupted.
On the issue of the port and airport, which could give Gaza’s 1.8 million citizens freedom to deal directly with the world as well as freedom of movement, he said: “We have a non-paper from the Germans, French and British, which includes the opening of the old airport under previous conditions with a European presence” at Rafah where passengers and cargo were cleared. “Until a port is ready, a port in Cyprus – Limassol – could be used to shuttle goods to Gaza.”
‘Horror’Although Palestinians have expressed concern that Israel is drawing out the negotiations so that broadcast images fade of the death and destruction wreaked by Israel on the narrow coastal strip during this conflict, he stated firmly: “I don’t think people will forget the horror of Gaza for a long time. The full extent of the horror will be revealed” after the ceasefire. “This is the most destructive conflict since World War II.”
As the sides appeared to expect a new ceasefire deal, the exchanges did not reach the intensity of those before the previous ceasefire was imposed. The Israeli air force hit 35 targets, while Palestinians launched 21 rockets at Israel; 16 struck the south and three were shot down and two fell inside Gaza, the Israeli army reported.
The latest death toll in the four-week Gaza war is 1,917 Palestinians, 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians. Nine Palestinians were killed on Saturday, and at least five yesterday. There were no Israeli fatalities. The UN says 73 per cent of Palestinian fatalities are civilians, around a third of them children.