Dichter: Israel to Allow Aid Supplies, Food Into Gaza

U.S. official says emergency PA gov't will have 'full support'; Olmert says will help bolster PA Chairman.

Fearful of a looming humanitarian disaster, Israel will allow food and other basic supplies into the Gaza Strip following Hamas' takeover of the coastal area, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said Saturday.

"Our consideration is the humanitarian issue. Allowing merchandise through Karni in order to prevent hunger in Gaza is what will guide Israel to allow merchandise," Dichter told Channel 2 TV.

Dichter said Hamas' conquest in Gaza signaled the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, the government entity established under past peace accords. But he said the new reality has turned the West Bank into an arena of opportunity for Israel.

"Now Israel must have a completely different policy in Gaza," he said.

He said a Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip should be treated as a terror entity and cut off its weapons supply. He said that could require Israel to deploy along Gaza's border with Egypt to halt weapons smuggling.

U.S. official: Emergency PA gov't will have 'full support'The United States plans to lift a ban on direct aid to the emergency government that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is forming following Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip, U.S. Consul-General Jacob Walles said on Saturday.

"I think ... there won't be any obstacles, economically and politically, in terms of reengaging with this government. Yes, they will have full support," Walles told Reuters in an interview.

"I expect that we are going to be engaged with this government," he added. "I expect that early next week. There will be some announcements in Washington, specifically about our assistance and about the financial regulations."

Walles thus confirmed an earlier statement by aides to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that the consul-general has informed Abbas that the embargo will be lifted as soon as he forms a new government without Hamas.

Abbas met Walles earlier Saturday in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles, at his West Bank headquarters.

Walles told Abbas that the U.S. supports his recent steps and that the foreign aid embargo on the Palestinian government will be lifted the moment the new government is formed, the aides said.

The international community had imposed the boycott after Hamas came to power in March 2006. The boycott continued even after Abbas' Fatah joined Hamas in a more moderate coalition.

Olmert pledges to help bolster AbbasPrime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday pledged to take steps to bolster Abbas, the Prime Minister's Office said.

Olmert made the promise during a phone conversation with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, according to a PMO statement.

"Israel will do all it can to help moderates in the Palestinian Authority after the radical Hamas took Gaza by force," the statement said.

While the statement did not elaborate, political sources in Jerusalem said Thursday they expect Israel to consider transferring frozen Palestinian tax funds to the Palestinian Authority, following PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' decision Thursday to dissolve the Hamas-Fatah unity government.

Unfreezing the tax funds is a move Washington was expected to ask Israel to undertake in an effort to boost Abbas' new emergency government.

The Israeli political sources said Israel's previous reluctance to hand over the funds had stemmed from Hamas' role in the government, an obstacle that appears to have been removed with Abbas' announcement.

President-elect Shimon Peres told United States President George Bush in a phone conversation: "We have to view in the current situation not only difficulties but opportunities as well."

Peres also emphasized that Israel "will do everything to strengthen Palestinians who want peace."

He thanked Bush for his support for Israel and noted that the situation a day before Prime Minister Olmert's visit to the U.S. Saturday presents opportunities that must not be missed.

Livni: Gaza multinational force must be willing to fight HamasA proposed multinational force deployed along the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt must be willing to fight the Islamic militant group Hamas to stop weapons smuggling in the area, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Friday.

At a news conference during an official visit to Portugal, Livni said Israel was not interested in any proposal involving a monitoring force for the Philadelphi corridor where Hamas uses tunnels to bring in weapons. Hamas gained control of the Gaza Strip on Thursday after days of heavy fighting with Fatah forces.

"Those who are talking in terms of international forces have to understand that the meaning is not monitoring forces but forces that are willing to fight, to confront Hamas on the ground," Livni said.

"The question is the effectiveness of these (multinational) forces. We don't need monitors to come in to tell us about the (smuggling), we need someone to stop it," she said.

Meanwhile, Belgium, which currently holds the presidency of the UN Security Council, said that a peacekeeping force for the Gaza Strip would stand no chance of success under the current circumstances.

"At this stage, there is not even the beginning of the conditions under which a possible peacekeeping force could operate," said Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht. "At this point, a proposal would stand no chance."

Israel to mull humanitarian aid to GazansAddressing the new status quo in Gaza, Israeli security officials said Israel will provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian civilian population in the Strip if the humanitarian crisis there intensifies, Israel Radio reported Friday.

The officials said Hamas must decide whether to accept the aid even though it does not recognize Israel.

The Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Fawzi Barhoum, told Haaretz on Thursday that the militant group, which seized power in Gaza after violent clashes with Fatah this week, is interested in maintaining contact with Israel so the country can attend to the needs of the civilian population in Gaza.

Israel supplies electricity and water to the Gaza Strip, and Israeli officials told Israel Radio that the government is also prepared to send food if Hamas were to agree to receive it.

In addition to dissolving the government, Abbas declared a state of emergency and said he would replace Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

However, Hamas issued a statement suggesting it did not recognize Abbas' authority.

"Prime Minister Haniyeh remains the head of the government even if it was dissolved by the president," senior Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Israel has been careful not to become involved in the fighting, and Housing and Construction Minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) said Friday that despite calls from the right for Israel to reoccupy the Gaza Strip, from which it withdrew in 2005, Israel would not move in to confront Hamas, which is sworn to destroy it.

"There is no intention to re-enter that swamp, Gaza, in this situation," Sheetrit told Israel Radio. "At this point, Israel has no reason to intervene."

U.S. wants to fast-track peace talksIn the wake of the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, the United States said Thursday that the Bush administration will now work to prevent the violence from spilling over to the West Bank. To achieve that, Israel may be urged to make concessions in the West Bank, since the United States aims to accelerate the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to allow Abbas to chalk up some political achievements.

In addition to asking Israel to free the tax funds, Washington is also expected to urge Israel to reconsider loosening its military grip on the West Bank.

Olmert, who is visiting Washington on Tuesday to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush, intends to tell him that Hamas' coup must be contained in the Gaza Strip and not allowed to spread to the West Bank, a government official told Haaretz on Thursday.

The American administration is also interested in improving living conditions in the West Bank to demonstrate to the Palestinians that they are better off under Fatah than Hamas.

Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip will dominate Olmert's White House meeting with Bush, and in this context, Olmert will discuss the possibility of deploying a multinational force in Gaza with both Bush and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The security cabinet, however, has not yet decided on its stance regarding the deployment of such a force, and will address the issue only after Olmert returns.

Regarding the Iranian threat, Olmert intends to suggest that Bush move to enforce harsher sanctions against the Islamic Republic, beyond those adopted by the UN Security Council. Among others, he will propose that Bush halt investment by American pension funds of in companies who deal with Iran, and will also suggest that Bush and like-minded allies bar Iranians from visiting Western countries.

Iran has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction and is thought to be pursuing an ambitious nuclear weapons program.

Olmert is also expected to brief Bush on his contact with Damascus, and on Syria's military efforts, which the defense establishment believes to be defensive at this point in time.