IDF considers creating Gaza Strip buffer zone

Military might move crossings away from border; Egypt beefs up Rafah security amid Hamas threats.

Karni crossing 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Karni crossing 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In an effort to minimize chances of successful terrorist attacks against Israel, the IDF is drawing up plans to move the Gaza crossings away from Israel's border, defense officials said Monday. There are currently four crossings into Gaza - Karni, Erez, Kerem Shalom and Sufa, all of which straddle the tense Israeli-Gaza border. Plans to move the crossings and reduce them in number began last month, shortly after Palestinians perpetrated a car bombing against the Kerem Shalom crossing in which 11 soldiers were wounded. Last Thursday, a truck laden with four tons of explosives blew up on the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing, causing extensive damages but no Israeli casualties. The plan to move the crossings several kilometers deeper into Israel is being coordinated by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i, together with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav, and the Shin Bet. "We want to create a sterile area between the crossings that would reduce the risk of car bombs and other attacks against the crossings," said a defense official working on the project. According to the plan, some of the crossings would be cancelled and others moved slightly east and into Israel in order to create a buffer zone between the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the crossings. The project could cost several hundred million shekels. As the plan could be implemented in the coming months, Vilna'i has ordered the Defense Ministry to refrain from investing the several million shekels needed to fix Kerem Shalom, which has been closed since the attack last month. Officials are also considering building conveyer belts to transfer supplies across the buffer zone and into Gaza. This method is already used at Karni to transfer wheat and other cereals. Meanwhile on Monday, the Erez crossing remained closed. According to Palestinian officials around 200,000 people in northern Gaza still don't have running water or power due to last Thursday's truck bomb explosion. A Gaza electric company spokesman said Monday that there has not been any power since Islamic Jihad detonated the truck bomb, cutting two of the seven major power lines that come in from Israel. The IDF says it is trying to fix the lines. Palestinian Authority security officials said Monday that Egypt has beefed up security measures along its border with the Gaza Strip to foil any attempt by Hamas to breach the border. According to the officials, the Egyptian move came in the wake of threats made by Syrian-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal during his visit to Iran last weekend. Mashaal told reporters in Teheran that Hamas was "determined" to lift the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip and would not hesitate to use all methods to achieve its goal. Following the threats, the Egyptians also issued a warning to Hamas against breaching the border for the second time since the beginning of the year. Earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians poured into Egypt after Hamas militiamen blew up large parts of the barrier between them along the Egyptian border. "The Egyptians have made it clear to Hamas that they won't allow a repetition of the incident that took place earlier this year when Egypt's sovereignty was flagrantly violated," a PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post. "The warning was delivered to Hamas late Sunday." An Egyptian diplomat confirmed that his country has issued a warning to Hamas. The diplomat told the Post that Egypt was concerned about Mashaal's threats and would not tolerate another violation of its sovereignty. "Egypt won't permit anyone to harm its national interests," he said. "If in the past we were patient, this time we would be forced to take severe measures to defend our interests." Eyewitnesses in the Gaza Strip said Egypt had increased the number of their border guards and security patrols along the border in the past 24 hours in anticipation of any trouble. Some Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip said the Egyptians are planning to hold another round of talks with representatives of the movement in the coming days in a final bid to achieve a cease-fire with Israel. The officials said that Israel's refusal to accept Hamas's demands for a cease-fire were the main reason behind the failure of the cease-fire talks so far. Hamas is demanding that the Rafah border crossing be reopened immediately after the two sides reach an agreement on a cease-fire - a demand that has been rejected by Israel. "The talks are going no where," said a senior Hamas official. "We are evolving in a vicious cycle because Israel does not appear to be interested in a truce at this stage." Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the results of last week's talks in Cairo between a senior Hamas delegation and Egyptian General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman were not encouraging. "Israel wants a free truce," he claimed. "They don't want to pay a price, especially with regards to lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip. Our position is that a truce should lead to the lifting of the siege and an end to the Israeli aggression." The Hamas officials said that their movement was preparing for the possibility that Israel would launch a massive military attack on the Gaza Strip as soon as the Egyptians officially declare the failure of their efforts to achieve a cease-fire. They believe that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may consider such action as a means of diverting attention from the police inquiry into his financial dealings. AP contributed to this report.