Gaza-West Bank convoys put on hold

Plans to begin ferrying Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank in convoys of buses have been put on hold, the Defense Ministry said Thursday. Under an American-brokered agreement, IDF-escorted bus convoys were originally supposed to start Thursday with truck convoys to begin a month later. Subsequently, there was talk of introducing the arrangement on a trial basis next week. But on Thursday a ministry official indicated even this was unlikely, saying the plan was "not going to be implemented right now." The ministry cited rocket attacks throughout the day and a thwarted terrorist attack on the Karni crossing between Gaza and Israel on Wednesday as the reason for the delay. The ministry has stressed that starting the convoys is dependent on the security situation. While it remains possible that the convoys could yet begin next week, an aide to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Thursday, "The security assessment today is not looking very good." Earlier in the day, Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim blasted the very idea of the convoys, saying it was a mistake and that Israel should be resisting American pressure to allow them. Knesset Foreign Relations Committee chairman Yuval Steinitz (Likud) also slammed the arrangement. He said it was "irrational" and warned that it would give terrorists in the West Bank missile technology. "Not only will Sderot be within range of Kassams, but also Kfar Saba and Petah Tikva," he said. If the convoys do begin next week, they will be run initially on a limited, pilot-program basis. Under the plan, five buses will take approximately 250 Palestinians from Gaza to the West Bank daily. The passengers will be allowed to stay for up to 10 days before returning. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) is drawing up security guidelines, which reportedly could include barring young men.