- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2008

TEL AVIV — Israel wants to completely sever ties with the Gaza Strip, a top defense official said today, and called on Egypt to take responsibility after allowing hundreds of thousands of Gazans to pour over its border with the coastal Palestinian territory.

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said that Gaza’s water, electricity and food supplies should be provided for by the government in Cairo rather than Jerusalem.

“We need to understand that when Gaza is open on the other side, we are no longer responsible for it,” Mr. Vilnai told Israel Army Radio. “So we want to disconnect from it.”

Analysts said the chaos at the border has sown tension between the two countries.

Israel, worried that Hamas will smuggle weapons and money into Gaza while exporting militants to the Sinai Peninsula, is reportedly accusing the Egyptians of allowing the border chaos to spiral out of control.

Egypt, according to Israel television’s Channel 1 News, is accusing Israel of sowing the seeds of the border chaos by enforcing an uncompromising economic closure on the Gaza Strip. The government of President Hosni Mubarak is unlikely to take the headache off Israel’s shoulders anytime soon.

“They don’t want to let Israel off the hook. They’re perfectly willing to see Israel at wit’s end over Hamas,” said Yossi Alpher, the co-editor of Bitterlemons.org, an online journal about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“At the broader strategic level, we can say that Hamas in Gaza has become a major source of tension between Israel and Egypt, and this is a major problem because it has ramifications that go far beyond Gaza,” he said.

The Islamist militant group Hamas seized control of Gaza in June. Israel has since cut off supplies of fuel and other essentials to Gaza.

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