“I think it is very likely that we will continue to control the skies and territorial waters of Gaza,” Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Tuesday.
Mofaz was also quoted by the Israeli state-run radio as saying Tel Aviv and Egypt were finalising an agreement whereby Egypt would deploy as many as 750 border policemen along the so-called “Philadelphi passage” bordering Rafah on the Palestinian side and the Sinai Peninsula at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip.
Mofaz did not say if Israeli troops would completely leave the Rafah border crossing as the Egyptians had been demanding.
The defence minister told the Israeli cabinet on Monday that Tel Aviv could not allow a free flow of goods and services between Gaza and the rest of the world, suggesting that “alternative border crossings” be created where Israel can control cross-border movements between Gaza and Egypt.
The expected withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, due in two weeks, will apparently give the Palestinian Authority (PA) full sovereignty over the region.
“I think it is very likely that we will continue to control the skies and territorial waters of Gaza”
According to Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the withdrawal will be “phased” and “will take time”.
“We want to transfer all of Gaza to the Palestinians. But the withdrawal will be a process that won’t happen overnight,” Regev told Aljazeera.net.
The Israeli official said the “transfer of sovereignty to the Palestinians” would depend on the “security situation”.
He added that Israel would not allow free and unchecked air traffic between the Gaza Strip and the rest of the world, evoking a 1996-protocol between the PA and Israel that gave Tel Aviv control in matters pertaining to security.
In fact, the 50-page document grants Israel veto power over the entire operations of the Gaza airport.
Much of the airport, including the runway, was destroyed by Israeli bulldozers during the years of the intifada.
Moreover, the document obliges the PA to coordinate all incoming and outgoing flights with Israel, a condition PA officials say they will no longer accept.
The PA reaction
“Israelis must very clearly decide if they want to end their occupation or not. They can’t tell the world they are ending their occupation of Gaza and at the same time insist on retaining control of our skies and waters,” said Abdullah Abdullah, director-general of the Palestinian Foreign Ministry.
Al-Kidwa voiced reservations
He described the Gaza airport protocol as “irrelevant”.
“This protocol is anachronistic. We are now speaking about a free Gaza, not an autonomous or partially-occupied Gaza. Israel can’t end the occupation of Gaza and retain her control at the same time.”
Earlier, PA Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa voiced serious reservations about the nature of the Israeli withdrawal.
“The Israelis are leaving the entire Gaza Strip, but Israel will maintain control of its air space, territorial waters and partially, the crossing points.
“Consequently, the movement of people and contact with the outside world will still be controlled by Israel,” al-Kidwa said.