Israel Maintains Tight Grip on Gaza Strip

Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday slammed Jewish settlers in Hebron even as he ordered security chiefs to draw up contingency plans for military action against resistance groups in Gaza although there have been no deaths as a result of the rocket and mortar fire of the past week.

Olmert called the settler rampages against Palestinians a ‘pogrom’—a Yiddish term for anti-Jewish massacres—in Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s outgoing PM"As a Jew, I am ashamed of the sights of Jews firing at Arabs in Hebron. I have no other definition for what we saw but a pogrom," he was quoted as saying by Ynet news, the Israeli daily Yediot’s website.

Olmert added that the defense minister will take action to curb the “phenomenon” of settler rioters. Jewish settler attacked Palestinians in Hebron last Thursday after an Israeli court ruled they were to evacuate a disputed building.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni echoed Omert’s call for a harsher Israeli response to rocket attacks directed at Israel from Gaza Strip.

"The truce has not been respected by the other side. They are firing on our citizens," Livni said Sunday, adding that Israel’s response should be "militarily, economically and politically" inclusive.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Bahum accused "the Zionist enemy of continuing its aggression against Gaza by systematically violating terms of the truce."

The six-month-long Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Hamas and Israel is due to end Dec. 19 without extensions.

"Discussions have taken place recently with the various parties about the truce but it seems difficult to agree [to] an extension and Hamas is ready for all eventualities," Bahum told AFP.
Humanitarian Aid Blocked

Meanwhile, Israel continued its blockade of the Gaza strip as it prevented an attempt Sunday by Arab Israeli MPs to deliver aid to Gaza in defiance of the crippling blockade.

Arab Israelis attempted to sail to Gaza with a shipment of food and medical supplies for destitute Gazans, who have suffered severe fuel, electricity, food and medical supply shortages since the blockade began Nov. 4, but were turned back.

"We warned the boat’s owner that he would be breaking the law and would be arrested if his boat were to try to sail to Gaza," Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told Reuters.

"This is a cowardly act by people and police who fear our delivery of medication to Gaza’s Shifa hospital. But we will continue to try to break the siege," Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli MP on board the ship to Gaza, told Reuters.

In a separate incident, Livni had reportedly promised Qatar it would allow its humanitarian ship through but was overruled by Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Olmert who prevented the ship from docking in Gaza, according to Ynet.

Travel to the Gaza Strip has been banned since Israeli soldiers and settlers left Gaza in 2005. A Libyan ship delivering humanitarian aid was turned back last week, although activists from Western countries had been allowed to break the blockade in the past.

On Saturday the World Bank had urged Israel to allow cash into the Gaza Strip to pay the wages of civil servants, warning that the liquidity crisis could bring down the besieged territory’s banking system. Banks were forced to shut down on Thursday for want of cash.

( and agencies)

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