Israel refuses to uphold Gaza-West Bank passage agreement by December 15 deadline
The United States is demanding that Israel allow Palestinian bus convoys to travel between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as it had agreed to in an agreement signed last month with the Palestinian Authority. The agreement stipulated that the convoys would begin running on December 15.
Israel on Tuesday said that is would not uphold the agreement as long as rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel continued, and told diplomats on Friday it has no intention of implementing the agreement until "better times," citing security considerations.
Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said that "Israel has no intention of allowing passage to Palestinian convoys from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank... while the PA is not acting against Qassam rocket fire," according to Haaretz.
One Western diplomat said the suspension of the convoys is a violation of Israel's agreement with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The US and other Quartet nations have increased pressure on Israel to implement the agreement, with the Quartet asking that Israel to enable the bus convoys to pass so as to reduce the severity of military closures on the West Bank.
David Welch, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs told reporters at Al Sharq Al Awsat,"We would like the agreement implemented on schedule and discussions are under way amongst parties about how to accomplish that, and I'm confident they will be able to do it. There are people who want to disturb this and other agreements. For that they resort to violence and terror. This agreement has a central feature: To offer the Palestinian a better chance so that Gaza won't be a big prison. On the other hand, to do so in a way that protects Israeli security and the lives of Israelis."
Welch also said that they are determined to see the convoys run by December 15, as called for in the agreement.
Israeli sources argued that the Palestinians are not abiding by the terms of the Rafah crossing agreement. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the Israeli threat, saying the Palestinians were working to address all issues at Rafah as quickly as possible with the help of the European monitors.
Settlements to expand
Also on Wednesday, Israeli media reports revealed that Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz approved the construction of more than 290 new settlement homes in the West Bank.
The decision is in violation of Israel's obligation to freeze settlement development.
200 new homes are reportedly planned for the town of Maale Adumim, 40 new housing units in the town of Ariel and dozens of homes in Bracha, near Nablus.
According to Israeli sources, the move is an attempt on Mofaz's part to gain favor with Israeli voters.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops arrested three Palestinians in the West Bank overnight following raids throughout the area.
In the Gaza Strip, an investigation into the death of a Palestinian farmer on Tuesday revealed that the man, 45-year old Mohammad Al Qara, died when a gas container exploded, and not by Israeli tank fire as had previously been believed.
The investigation was undertaken by the Palestinian Authority.