Friday, September 16, 2005 | return to: international


Is Gaza still occupied?: Israel and Palestinians disagree

by ravi nessman, the associated press

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khan younis, gaza strip | Israel says its 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip ended when its last soldier leaves the territory.

The Palestinians disagree, pointing to Israel's continued control of Gaza's airspace, coastal waters and border crossings as evidence the occupation will continue.

The resolution could have implications for Israel's image in the world as well as its legal obligations to Gaza's Palestinians.

The disagreement stems from differing interpretations of international law and agreements between the two sides and from the very nature of Israel's pullout, which was a unilateral move only minimally coordinated with the Palestinians.

There also are political considerations. Israel wants the international accolades of ending its occupation, while the Palestinians want to keep pressure on Israel to make concessions in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with Gaza in the 1967 Mideast War.

Israel argues that it has removed every settler and soldier from Gaza, dismantled its military administration there and given up all control of the region.

"Gaza will be turned over the Palestinians in full and with the completion of that process ... Israel's presence in Gaza will be part of history," said Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Mohammed Dahlan sharply disagreed.

"Israel is deluding itself if it believes that its occupation over the Gaza Strip has now ended," he said.

Part of the problem stems from lingering disagreements over the flow of people and goods to Gaza.

Israel will still control Gaza's airspace and seacoast, and has given the Palestinians permission to rebuild a port, which could take several years, but not their airport, which could open within months.

The Israelis and Palestinians also have not reached agreement on whether Palestinians would be able to use the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border, with a third party acting as a monitor, or would be forced to cross into Egypt at a terminal inside Israel, which would prolong Israeli control of their access to the outside world.

Israel has agreed to refurbish the Rafah crossing, expected to take six months, and consider the use of foreign monitors after that. In the meantime, Palestinian goods and people will have to enter Gaza from Egypt through the Israeli terminal at a point where Gaza, Egypt and Israel meet.

Israel says it is concerned that Gaza's militants will smuggle advanced weapons from Egypt to use against Israel.

"They control the water, the sky and the passages. How can you say occupation is over?" Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat asked.

Dahlan added that Israel further weakened its claim by "reserving for itself the right to invade the Gaza Strip." As part of its pullout plan, Israel says it retains the right to re-enter Gaza to stem threats or attacks.

Were Israel found to still be occupying Gaza, the Palestinians there could claim protection under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which makes an occupying country responsible for the welfare of the occupied people. Israel has long held that the convention did not apply to the Palestinians but said it still honored its provisions.


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