Israel to Renew Convoy Talks Despite Violence in Gaza

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel decided on Thursday to renew talks with the Palestinian Authority on establishing Palestinian bus convoys between the Gaza Strip and West Bank, even though the Israeli government said the convoy talks would not resume until the P.A. cracked down on terror.

The convoy plan is part of a travel agreement worked out last month with help from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Palestinians were supposed to be bused across Israeli territory beginning today, but the plan stalled last week after a suicide bombing in Netanya.

Today's move to restart the talks apparently is due to American pressure, although Israeli officials decline to comment on that.

Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said in a radio interview on Thursday that it had been a mistake for Israel to sign the travel agreement in the first place. He said Israel should have resisted American pressure, media reports said.

Instead, the Americans should be pressuring the P.A. to deal with the terrorists, he said.

Earlier this week the head of the Israeli army, Lt.-Gen Dan Halutz, said the convoy deal was delayed because the P.A. had not stopped rocket fire from Gaza into Israel nor the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip.

When the agreement was signed in November, the head of Israel's National Security Council, Reserve Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland, said Israel had taken "calculated risks" when it made the agreement.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said on Thursday that Israel was committed to the travel agreement but only if the Palestinians fulfilled their commitment to fight terrorism.

But a short time later, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's office said that Mofaz had decided to renew the discussions with the Palestinians. No decision had been made on when the convoys would start, however.

No end to conflict

Palestinian terrorists fired three Kassam rockets into southern Israel on Thursday.

Also on Thursday, the Israeli Air Force targeted two Gaza Strip buildings believed to be used for storing weapons and other terror-related activity.

In the West Bank on Thursday, Israeli army sappers blew up a car loaded with gas canisters. Security sources said the canisters were to be used in explosions.

On Wednesday, the Air Force carried out a targeted strike against a vehicle packed with explosives and carrying four members of the Popular Resistance Committees and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades. Israel says the militants were on their way to carry out a terrorist attack at the Karni crossing from Gaza into Israel.

The Karni crossing is essential for the transfer of goods between Gaza, Israel and the West Bank. Such trade is vital for the survival and growth of the Palestinian economy.

The Karni crossing has been targeted a number of times in the past, and Israeli officials say that's because terrorists want to destroy any working relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.

Inter-Palestinian violence also erupted this week in the Gaza Strip. Tensions have escalated between different factions in the ruling Fatah party of P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in an Israeli jail for terror-related activities, has now quit the Fatah faction and started his own political party.

Barghouti, who has popular support among Palestinians in the West Bank, supports a two-track approach to Israel: talks and "resistance" (terror) at the same time.

His departure is seen as a blow to Abbas, who represents the "old guard" of the late Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization.

Many Palestinians see the old guard as tainted by corruption.

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