Israel threatens sanctions against Hamas government

Associated Press
Published February 18, 2006

JERUSALEM - Israel's acting prime minister weighed sanctions Friday against a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority, including barring thousands of Palestinian workers, sealing off the Gaza Strip and formally branding the authority an enemy.

Ehud Olmert was briefed on the proposed sanctions and the Cabinet was to make a final decision on whether to implement them on Sunday, a day after the new Palestinian legislature is installed.

In Gaza, the Islamic militant group's apparent choice for prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, accused Israel of inflicting collective punishment.

Haniyeh, 46, is a relative moderate and his nomination would be a sign of pragmatism by Hamas leaders. But Haniyeh, who has served as a liaison between Hamas and the outgoing Fatah-led government, said Friday a final decision on the prime minister's role had not been made yet.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, will demand that Hamas publicly accept his goal of reaching a peace deal with Israel and recognize past agreements with the Jewish state, officials said.

Israeli leaders have taken a tough line against Hamas since the group won Palestinian legislative elections last month. They have tried to rally international support for isolating Hamas and said there will be no dealings with it until the group changes its ways.

After the Palestinian swearing-in ceremony today, Israel will bar Gaza laborers, stripping about 4,000 Palestinian families of their main source of income, and halt the movement of Palestinian officials between the West Bank and Gaza. The campaign is aimed at isolating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. The Palestinians claim both areas, separated by Israeli territory, for a future state.

Israel will prevent Hamas legislators in Gaza from traveling to Ramallah in the West Bank for the opening of Parliament today, said government spokesman Raanan Gissin.

Blocking access to Israel would be devastating to Gaza. Israel is the largest market for the impoverished coastal strip and most of Gaza's exports to the rest of the world pass through Israeli ports.

Israel is also considering declaring the Palestinian Authority an enemy, closing the borders and cutting off communication. The government is likely to halt monthly transfers of about $50-million in taxes and customs duties it collects for the Palestinians. The transfers are crucial for the Palestinian Authority to pay salaries to 140,000 government workers.

But Israel has said humanitarian aid would continue.

Critics warn the measures could plunge Palestinians deeper into poverty, encouraging extremism and violence.