US 'not pressing' for convoys

Israel suspends plan to shuttle Palestinians between W. Bank and Gaza.

erez crossing barrier 88 (photo credit: )
erez crossing barrier 88
(photo credit: )
The US hasn't applied pressure on Israel to resume talks over establishing convoys for Palestinians between the Gaza Strip and West Bank, despite having brokered an agreement calling for them, diplomatic officials said Thursday. IDF-escorted buses were supposed to start running on December 15, but Israel suspended work on the issue following Monday's suicide bombing in Netanya. In the days before the bombing, Israel had expressed concerns about terrorists entering Gaza through the Rafah border with Egypt, whose opening was a major feature of the US-backed agreement. US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch arrived here Thursday for a short visit in which he will be addressing the problems connected to Gaza and its crossings. While the US would like the deadline to be met, it's not seen as imperative, though it's hoped that Welch would be able to resolve the issue. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman Ra'anan Gissin said that "there's no pressure" on Israel from the Americans to return to discussions about meeting the deadline for the convoys. "We consented to an American-brokered agreement, so it's up to them to make sure that it's enforced," Gissin said, referring to Palestinian Authority obligations. "The American side has made it very clear that they will tolerate no breaking of the [Rafah] agreement." Gissin said the convoys issue would only be taken up after PA action against terror: "The whole discussion of operating this new arrangement will be delayed until the Palestinian Authority is serious about fighting terror," he said. Gissin said the policy of delaying the convoys was "intended to deliver a message that if they don't do it [fight terror], we will." Welch reportedly used similar language at a conversation with Israeli officials held Thursday night. "If the Palestinian Authority won't deal with terror, someone else should," he said, according to Israeli sources familiar with the conversation. An American official described PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's need to crack down on terror as the primary focus of Welch's visit, which follows on US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent phone call to Abbas on the same theme. During his meeting with Welch, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom pressed the issue of Israel's vulnerable Egyptian border, pointing to a significant increase in the number of weapons smuggled over the border since the pullout from Gaza was completed in September.