Israel seals off Gaza, West Bank until Friday
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel imposed a blockade in Gaza and the West Bank, preventing Palestinians from traveling to jobs in Israel until Friday, an Israeli army spokesman said.
As ceremonies were held across the Jewish state Wednesday in memory of its fallen soldiers, militant Islamic groups vowed to conduct more bombings during the blockade, The Associated Press reported.
Israel said it ordered the closure for security reasons on its memorial day, which began at sundown Tuesday, and for its Independence Day, which begins at sundown Wednesday.
That action came despite Washington's advice against a "full-blown closure," said a U.S. State Department official.
According to the official, the United States "recognized Israel's need to take security measures, but advised against taking any steps that take away from the Palestinians' economic livelihood and ability to move."
Israeli has tightly restricted travel in the West Bank and Gaza since an outbreak of violence last September. Many Palestinians have been cut off from jobs in other parts of the region by the closures.
The Palestinians had asked the Israelis to lift the restrictions in place at all Palestinian areas, saying the closures amount to a collective punishment of all Palestinians for the actions of a few -- and foment the unrest that spawns violence.
But Israel holds Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority responsible for the latest violence -- including a series of bombings in the last two weeks -- which erupted seven months ago.
Earlier Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Israel will begin to ease restrictions on the Palestinian town of Jericho in the next few days.
The Israelis agreed to ease the restrictions on Jericho during talks with Palestinian security officials, who pledged to keep the West Bank tourist town safe when that happens.
Lebanese PM in Washington
Peres said continued violence would hamper Arafat's ability to get help from U.S. officials.
"I think that if the shooting doesn't stop, it will be very hard for Arafat to go to Washington," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has met with U.S. President George W. Bush, and Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was in Washington on Tuesday to meet with him.
Hariri said after the meeting that he and Bush had discussed the Middle East peace process in general terms, saying that the president "made it very clear ... that the United States is engaged in the peace process."
"We would like to see the United States play a more effective role to push the peace process forward," Hariri told reporters.
Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon last year after an 18-year battle with Hezbollah guerrillas determined to drive out the Israelis, who had occupied a stretch of land along the border as a security measure.
Anti-Israel rhetoric in Tehran
While Hariri was in Washington, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah was at a conference of anti-Israeli groups meeting in Tehran, Iran.
"Victory belongs to us," Nasrallah said.
Other speakers were harsh in their condemnation of Israel.
"The oppressed people of Palestine, whether those who dwell in that bloodstained holy land or those who continue to bear the brunt of hardship and displacement worldwide, are all in all the victims of Zionist discrimination and aggression," moderate Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said.
Iran's supreme leader, however, went further, claiming evidence proving "that the numbers of the Jewish Holocaust were exaggerated to solicit international sympathy and lay the grounds for the occupation of Palestine and justify the atrocities of the Zionists."
"Supporting the Palestinian people is one of our important Islamic duties," said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.
Violence intensifies in Mideast
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
U.S. 'ready to talk' with N. Korea
Death toll nears 1,000 in South Asia's cold spell
IAEA: Year for Iraq inspections
U.S. doubles forces in Persian Gulf
Mugabe resignation offer proposed
OPEC to raise daily oil output
N. Y. plans to heal skyline
Stocks rise on Case departure
Lieberman's presidential announcement today
New arrests may be linked to UK ricin scare
Jordan says farewell for the third time
Shaq could miss playoff game for child's birth
Ex-USOC official says athletes bent drug rules
|Back to the top|