- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2005

OTTAWA — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel yesterday to ease the restrictions on Palestinian movements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but Israeli officials said that would not happen until Palestinian violence comes to an end.

Miss Rice, during a visit to Canada, endorsed a report by James Wolfensohn, a Middle East envoy for the United States and other foreign mediators, in which he criticized the Jewish state for not allowing the Palestinians full control of Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal in August.

“It is very clear that the crossings issue needs to get resolved — not just the Rafah crossing but the issues of freedom of movement within the West Bank and issues about other crossings that need to be freed up,” the secretary said.

“We now need to work to make sure that the benefits of that withdrawal are actually realized, so that it becomes a step that can accelerate our movement along the road map and then ultimately to the establishment of two states,” she said at a press conference with Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew.

In an Oct. 17 letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mr. Wolfensohn said Israel was behaving almost as if the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip never happened.

Miss Rice said that Mr. Wolfensohn was “simply asking the parties to do everything that they can … to make sure that the Gaza is going to be a place that Palestinians can see a different kind of life.”

She noted that the Wolfensohn report also points out that Palestinians must take steps to improve the situation on the ground.

Israeli officials were much more forceful, saying restrictions cannot be eased until Palestinian attacks on Israel stop.

“We agree with the Wolfensohn report, but it’s very difficult to lift the security measures we have to take, because every time we lift them, there is an attack,” one Israeli official said, citing a rocket attack from Gaza on Monday and last week’s killing of Jewish teenagers.

“Terrorism continues. It’s not a theoretical issue,” he said.

He also said that Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz planned to discuss the crossings and movement issues with Egyptian officials during a visit to Cairo today.

Israel withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza over the summer after nearly 30 years of occupation. The territory, now under Palestinian control, is on the other side of Israel from the larger Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank, and Palestinians must cross Israel or go through Egypt to pass between the two areas.

Israel closed the Rafah crossing into Egypt, Gaza’s main link to the outside world, shortly before it withdrew from Gaza. It also has severely restricted the passage of Palestinian laborers and goods in and out of Israel, the main Palestinian export market, since a wave of rocket attacks right after the pullout.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.



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