U.S. Officials Demand IAF Cease Overflights in Lebanese Airspace

Turkey has postponed a visit by a delegation from Ankara that was supposed to sign an agreement on developing a joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial park, in protest over the destruction two weeks ago of structures in the old industrial park during an Israel Defense Forces operation in the Gaza Strip.

The IDF operation in the Erez industrial zone, on the Israel-Gaza border, was ordered by senior officers in the Gaza Division, and was not approved by the government.

The Turks are furious over the destruction of the buildings, saying that this will delay the so-called "Ankara Project." Turkey was scheduled to assist Israel and the Palestinian Authority in setting up the zone, where small manufacturing plants are to operate.

The Americans, who are backing the plan, also expressed dissatisfaction with Israel's action through two envoys, David Welch and Elliott Abrams, who are currently visiting Israel.

The two Bush administration officials demanded that Israel Air Force overflights of Lebanon be halted, saying that such flights undermine the standing of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The two American diplomats held short meetings yesterday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The meeting with Olmert was dedicated to preparations for his visit to the United States and his meeting with President George W. Bush in 10 days' time.

A government source said that the two envoys did not put forth any new diplomatic initiative on behalf of the Bush administration.

Olmert also met yesterday with visiting U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who is in Israel as the guest of Mossad chief Meir Dagan. Negroponte's talks with Israeli intelligence officials are focusing on Iran and its nuclear program, a subject that will also preoccupy Bush and Olmert during their meeting in Washington.

The talks with Welch and Abrams, in contrast, focused on the standing of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The U.S. diplomats said that Abbas is "exhibiting weakness," and the main question is whether it is possible to strengthen him - and if so, how.

On Wednesday, the security cabinet authorized a plan put forward by the American security coordinator in the territories, General Keith Dayton, to bolster Palestinian security forces loyal to Abbas in the Gaza Strip. However, this authorization was only in principle, and Israel has yet to give a green light for either the delivery of additional arms to Abbas or the entry into Gaza of the Badr Brigade, a Palestine Liberation Organization force currently stationed in Jordan.

The question of how to bolster Abbas was also at the center of a meeting of Quartet representatives in London last week. The participants - representing the U.S., European Union, Russia and the UN - discussed the implementation of three existing accords: a November 2005 agreement on the Gaza border crossings, the Sharm al-Sheikh understandings of February 2005, and the road map peace plan.

They agreed that Israel should be asked to allow expanded operations at the Rafah and Karni crossings into Gaza, and also to enable free passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel will also be asked to remove the checkpoints that impede the free flow of traffic in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, the British government is promoting a plan to bypass Hamas and strengthen the PA by bolstering four institutions directly answerable to Abbas: the border crossings authority, the monetary authority, the presidential guard and the legal system. Norway, for its part, is calling a conference of PA donor countries.