Israel goes back on 'relaxation' pledge

Israeli forces imposed a blanket closure on the occupied Gaza Strip on Monday and shot dead three Palestinians, hours after US secretary of state Colin Powell called on Israel to ease civilian suffering.

    The attacks came hours after
    Israel promised 'humanitarian

    The Rafah and Beit Hanoun crossings in Gaza were sealed off despite Israel’s pledge to Powell to make some humanitarian concessions. An Israeli army statement said the closure was re-imposed due to “security considerations”. 

    Military roadblocks closed off every major town in the occupied West Bank and curfews crippled life for hundreds of thousands of civilians.

    Israel had said it would allow in 25,000 Palestinian workers and release 180 detainees. But Monday’s closure effectively revokes its promise.

    Earlier Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip after launching an attack at dawn. Israeli gunfire also wounded three others and tanks destroyed two homes. 

    A Palestinian farmer working on his land was shot and killed by Israeli occupation soldiers near the settlement of Ganei Tal in Gaza.

    The attacks came hours after Powell wrapped up talks with Palestinians and Israelis. He was trying to push both sides to implement Washington’s latest peace “road map”  aimed at putting an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

    But Powell refused to go into the details of what still divides the two sides, including Israel’s demand that Palestinians renounce the right of return for refugees before peace talks can begin.

    The US Secretary of State also brushed aside questions about illegal Jewish settlements and outpost construction in the occupied Palestinian territories. He said this issue would be raised when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visits Washington next week.

    Israeli political sources said Sharon would likely meet his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas this week to discuss the US-backed plan.

    Powell called on both sides to "get started quickly" on implementing what he described as confidence-building steps before tackling bigger stumbling blocks in the peace process.

    Powell was speaking in Cairo after meeting Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and foreign minister Ahmed Maher.

    Powell is trying to boost Arab
    support for US-backed 'road map'

    His tour will also take him to Amman to boost Arab support for the US plan.

    Israel unsure of “road map”

    Whether or not Israel will accept the “road map”, as Palestinian leaders have, may be clarified only after Sharon meets US President George W Bush on 20 May, according to some diplomats. 

    Hardline right-wing parties dominating Sharon’s coalition strongly oppose dismantling Jewish settlements, illegal under United Nations resolutions, in the occupied territories.

    A US official travelling with Powell said Abbas privately told the US secretary of state he was not only looking for an end to armed resistence  by Palestinian groups opposing occupation but to “uproot the violence” altogether.


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