The international community has to decide within a short time how to funnel reconstruction aid into the Gaza Strip without benefiting Hamas, before Iran moves in and does the job itself as it did in south Lebanon in 2006, diplomatic officials said Thursday.
The EU foreign ministers, who met Wednesday with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Brussels about this and other matters connected to the Gaza Strip, are scheduled to meet Sunday with various Arab foreign ministers. The envoys are expected to issue a statement Monday that is likely to deal with mechanisms for reconstruction.
Defense officials said that Israel preferred that all of the money donated to rehabilitating the Gaza Strip be transferred to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, since it could be a way for the Fatah leader to reassert his control over Gaza.
"This is a way for Abbas to get back in control of the Gaza Strip," one official said. "If he is in charge of the money, Hamas will have to work with him and he will be involved in what happens in Gaza."
The official added that if the money went directly to Hamas it would grant the terror group a level of international legitimacy for the regime it has established in the Gaza Strip.
"If that happens, it would defeat the purpose of the operation," the official said.
One diplomatic official said Israel was not in a position to dictate who would be in charge of the reconstruction of Gaza, but said Israel would have to approve transferring the massive amounts of steel and concrete needed to rebuild through the border crossings.
Defense officials said that there were concerns that some of the Palestinians' requests for cement and metal pipes would be used by Hamas to rebuild its Kassam manufacturing line. One possibility under consideration is to permit the transfer of the cement and pipes to Gaza although via the international organizations - such as UNRWA and the World Bank - which would be responsible for overseeing how it was used.
Livni, meanwhile, told her counterparts in the EU that Israel would open the border crossings for humanitarian purposes, but was adamant that the arms smuggling had to end. She said Israel's right to defend itself applied not only to stopping missile fire, but also to stopping arms smuggling. Livni spoke with her colleagues about the contribution Europe could make to the smuggling battle.
After the meeting, Livni told reporters she regretted the loss of civilian lives in Gaza but blamed Hamas for operating from highly populated areas, calling the war against Hamas a "war against terror, not against Palestinians."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, called for "thorough investigations, full explanations and, where it is required, accountability" for the deaths of civilians and the Israeli bombing of UN facilities in Gaza.
He expressed outrage that a UN school housing refugees "who had nowhere else to go" was bombed, killing two young boys, just two days after Israeli leaders had given him "personal assurances" that UN facilities would be protected.
"I expect to receive a full explanation of each incident and that those responsible will be held accountable for their actions," Ban told the Security Council in a briefing statement delivered by Under-Secretary General Lynn Pascoe. Ban, who had lost his voice, apologized for his "displeasing" hoarseness, before handing off the microphone.
Pascoe told reporters after the meeting that Ban would "decide on an appropriate follow-up action" after seeing the results of the Israeli investigations. He deflected questions about whether an independent investigating body would be appointed, saying that UN staff in the Middle East were instead focusing on humanitarian efforts.
Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour welcomed Ban's "condemnation" of the attacks but did not rule out independent legal appeals by the Palestinian Authority.
"We will continue working on the legal front to bring all Israeli criminals who committed these atrocities against us and against UN agencies to face justice in many areas, not only through international legal systems but also through domestic legal systems in many countries, including the European countries," he told reporters. In a statement released after the briefing, the 15-member Security Council called for both Israel and Hamas to guarantee protection to UN humanitarian facilities and "ensure respect for international humanitarian law."
Meanwhile Thursday, the IDF granted permission to Jordan to set up a field hospital in the Gaza Strip. The Jordanian medical team will enter Israel through the Allenby Bridge in the coming days with its equipment, and will then be allowed to enter Gaza via the Erez Crossing. The hospital will be set up next to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.