Israel reopens crossings into Gaza

Cement allowed through for first time in a year; passage was closed due to Kassams rocket attacks.

olmert dimona 224 88 gpo (photo credit: GPO)
olmert dimona 224 88 gpo
(photo credit: GPO)
Israel reopened the border crossings into Gaza on Wednesday, a day after they were closed because of a Kassam rocket attack on the western Negev, even as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Tuesday that Israel would respond with "full force" if the cease-fire did not hold. "We are in favor of a real calm," Olmert said while on a tour of Dimona. "If it prevails, good. If it doesn't, we know how to respond with full force, and in a way that will guarantee full security to the residents of the south." "We agreed on a truce without [terror groups'] re-armament, without Kassams and mortar shells being fired and without terror operations being carried out against our communities in the south," Olmert said. He added that there are those who say Israel needed to show patience in the matter because it was unrealistic to expect to go from a period of daily attacks to one of absolute quiet. "We have shown patience," Olmert said. "But nobody should interpret that as weakness, because there is no weakness in it." Defense officials, meanwhile, said that while Hamas was not behind the rocket fire, Israel would hold the terror group, which is in complete control of the Gaza Strip, responsible for any attack originating in the Palestinian territory. "We have created an equation that for every rocket attack and breach by the Palestinians we will close down the crossings," one official said. The officials said that the decision to reopen the crossings on Wednesday included a decision to allow cement into the Gaza Strip, the first time cement will be allowed into Gaza in over a year. Alongside the cease-fire efforts, Olmert said, Israel would continue pursing the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. "The situation of the negotiations today is different than it was a few months ago when we started," he said. "There is progress." A senior American official said Tuesday that the goal of the negotiations remains reaching a comprehensive shelf-agreement by the end of the year. If that was unattainable, the official said, there were differences of opinion both inside the Israeli and Palestinian delegations, and between them, about whether a document should be written summarizing what was agreed upon and what was accomplished during the negotiations. The official indicated that the US preference was for such a document. He said that the US was not, however, going in the direction of issuing its own document to bridge gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian positions on a variety of issues. Regarding US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's stepped-up criticism recently of Israeli construction in east Jerusalem and the settlements, the official said that "by making these points to people it increases the desire to make progress in other areas." He said that the US commentary on the construction "is having an impact" on encouraging Israel to "improve the quality of life" for the Palestinians in terms of improving movement and access, allowing the recent investment conference in Bethlehem, coordinating more closely with the Palestinian security forces in Jenin, and approving plans put forward by Quartet envoy Tony Blair. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday that Israel was prepared to make painful concessions in order to obtain peace with the Palestinians and that they would be held responsible if the current talks failed. "We expect the talks with the Palestinians to advance and the Israeli public is prepared to make painful concessions," Barak said following a meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, on the sidelines of the Socialist International Congress near Athens. "If peace will not be achieved following this round of talks it will be the responsibility of the Palestinians." Addressing the conference earlier, Abbas said the talks "still face great obstacles" but the chance for a settlement should not be lost. "There [is] still a wide gap between the respective positions that cannot be overcome unless the Israeli government adopts positions and measures that will clearly emphasize its sheer desire to seize an opportunity to achieve peace," Abbas said. "But this chance may not remain open forever." AP contributed to this report