The leaked cable said that Barak, left, made the comments at a meeting at the US embassy in Tel Aviv  [EPA]

A leaked US diplomatic cable has raised the possibility that Fatah, the Palestinian group in power in the occupied West Bank, knew that Israel was planning an attack on the Gaza Strip before it launched its deadly offensive in December 2008.

The conflict, which ended in January 2009 after three weeks, led to more than 1400 Palestinian deaths and left vast swathes of the Gaza Strip completely destroyed.

According to a June 2009 US embassy cable released on the WikiLeaks website, Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, told a US congressional delegation that his country had asked Fatah and Egypt "prior to Operation Cast Lead" whether "they were willing to assume control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas".

Barak said that neither Fatah nor Egypt responded positively to the question, but the suggestion that Palestinian leaders knew in advance of the attack on Gaza could prove massively embarrassing for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.  

The cable is part of a huge trove of classified US diplomatic documents that WikiLeaks started to release on Sunday, infuriating Washington which regretted the leak and called it an "attack on the international community".

The June 2 cable said that Barak made the comments at a meeting at the US embassy in Tel Aviv aimed at reviving the peace process and providing security in the occupied Palestinian territories.

'No consultation'

Fatah has denied that Israel contacted them ahead of the offensive, what Israel calls Operation Cast Lead.

"Nobody consulted with us, and that is the truth," Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel, said. "Israel doesn't consult before going to war."

Egypt did not immediately respond to the allegations.

Salah al-Bardaweel, Hamas' spokesman, said after the cable revelation: "We have not ruled out that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority [that Fatah leads] could have contributed in one way or another in the war against Gaza for political reasons, such as bringing down the Hamas movement and regaining control.

"The Zionist enemy does not take a permission from Fatah or anybody else when they want to launch a war on Gaza but they may seek the opinion of others regarding such a war."

Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah in a coup in 2007. Israel immediately imposed a crippling blockade on the territory, and attacked at the end of 2008 in a bid to destroy Hamas after suffering rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns.

Source: Agencies