Egypt won't take control of Gaza

Vilna'i: We want to relinquish all responsibility for Strip; High Court to hold session on blockade.

Egyption police 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Egyption police 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A top Egyptian official said Thursday that Egypt's border with Gaza will go back to normal, and strongly rejected the idea - floated by Jerusalem - that Israel might relinquish all responsibility for the troubled Gaza Strip. "This is a wrong assumption," Hossam Zaki, the official spokesman for Egypt's foreign ministry, said of Israeli hints that it was thinking of giving up all responsibility for Gaza, including supplying electricity, now that the territory's southern border with Egypt is open. "The current situation is only an exception and for temporary reasons," Zaki said. "The border will go back to normal." Zaki said Egypt had not been formally approached by Israel about any such proposal. Deputy Defense minister Matan Vilna'i had said earlier that Israel wants to relinquish all responsibility for the Gaza Strip, including the supply of electricity and water, now that the territory's southern border with Egypt has been blown open. "We need to understand that when Gaza is open to the other side we lose responsibility for it," Vilna'i said, according to his office. "So we want to disconnect from it." "We want to stop supplying electricity to them, stop supplying them with water and medicine, so that it would come from another place," continued the deputy defense minister. However, Israel will continue to be responsible for the flow of such supplies into the Gaza Strip until an alternative is found, the office quoted him as saying. Speaking from the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, Defense Minister Ehud Barak refused to echo the statement by his deputy. "I don't go too far in my interpretation of this," Barak offered. Meanwhile, the High Court of Justice called an emergency session to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip following the blockade imposed on the territory. The session is slated to take place on Sunday and judges will deliberate appeals submitted by Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups. The court has rejected similar appeals in the past and judges have approved the temporary withholding of fuel from the Strip. The decision came as Egyptian border guards began trying to control the masses of Palestinians flooding across the border for a second day, stopping some from moving deeper into Egypt, but not attempting to reseal the border. Earlier, US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns declared that Egypt was responsible for restoring order to the Gaza border, Army Radio reported. The residents of the Strip, he said, had become prisoners of the Hamas government. Burns, who was speaking to Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, added that Kassam rocket fire from Gaza must stop immediately. Also Thursday, Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim said that Israel must retake control of the Philadelphi corridor, most likely with the coordination of Egypt, Europe and the US. Boim told Israel Radio that Egypt could supervise the border and use the current situation at the Rafah crossing to "fix their non-compliance with the existing border agreement Israel was ordered to obey." The construction and housing minister went on to say that the current blockade imposed on the Strip was "meaningless" because there were no restrictions to what as being smuggled in. He added that Israel must be allowed to eliminate all involved in terror activity including those considered members of the Palestinian "political echelons." Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak instructed his forces at the border to detain any Palestinian who illegally crossed the border. Mubarak's statement came several hours after the Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced that Egypt does not intend to shut off the wide-open Rafah border with the Gaza Strip. Mubarak also called on Palestinian rival factions not scuffle with Egypt's security forces at the border crossing. Mubarak said that while Egypt would not let them starve, the Palestinian factions must consider the suffering of the Palestinian people above all. The Egyptian president urged the Palestinians not to involve Egypt in their internal disputes, Israel Radio reported. Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassam Zaki told CNN that the border will remain open "as long as this is a humanitarian crisis." After the "shopping spree," Zaki said, "We expect everyone to go back to Gaza to their homes within a short period of time." "We are not opening the Rafah crossing just for everybody to cross - we're opening it because it's a very dire humanitarian situation," he added. Hamas leaders on Wednesday called for an "urgent and speedy" meeting with representatives of Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to work out new, shared arrangements to control the border crossing in Rafah. The call came shortly after Palestinian gunmen blew up large parts of the wall separating the Gaza Strip from Sinai, enabling tens of thousands of Palestinians to cross freely into Egyptian territory. Palestinian and Egyptian sources estimated that some 300,000 Palestinians entered Egypt Wednesday. Although many had returned home by nightfall, the sources said thousands planned to spend the night in Egypt. AP and Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report