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Israel to begin cutting off electricity to Gaza

  • Story Highlights
  • Defense Minister says power to be cut off gradually; hospitals to be spared
  • Move comes in response to rockets fired into Israel from Gaza
  • Gaza is controlled by Hamas faction; Israel considers it "hostile territory"
  • U.N. official warns move will worsen already bad humanitarian situation in Gaza
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved a measure Thursday to begin cutting off electricity to Gaza, which Israel recently declared a "hostile territory," according to a spokeswoman for Barak.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak speaks at the United Nations last week.

"The recommendation is to begin gradually cutting the electricity supply without harming humanitarian sources like hospitals," Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said in an interview on Israel Army Radio.

Barak's spokeswoman would not say when the measure will begin, but the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that cuts to power and fuel supplies will begin in the coming days.

The move is part of a plan put together by Israeli security officials in response to ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel. The first step of the plan came when the Israeli Cabinet labeled Gaza a "hostile territory" last month.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas criticized that decision, saying it would "sabotage" his government's efforts to extend its mandate into Gaza.

Earlier this year, Hamas seized control of the Palestinian territory of Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas' Fatah party, in what Abbas called a "coup."

That caused a split in the Palestinian leadership, with Fatah leaders consolidating their power in the West Bank.

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"There should be no sanctions against the Palestinian people, neither individual nor collective punishment," he said days after the Cabinet's decision. "It will harm our bilateral relations, it will harm our discussions and negotiations, it will harm the atmosphere and even sabotage it."

Abbas has aligned himself with the United States and European Union, which restarted millions of dollars in aid that was frozen after Hamas won elections in January.

The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been under mounting pressure to do something about the rocket attacks.

According to figures compiled by the Israel Defense Forces, approximately 800 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel from June to September, compared with approximately 500 during the same period last year.

Hamas took over Gaza in mid-June of this year.

While Israeli officials insisted that humanitarian assistance to Gaza would not be hurt, a spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said that will be the result if the new sanctions are imposed.

Speaking after last month's unanimous Cabinet decision, Chris Gunness of UNRWA said the impact of these Israeli measures would be "extremely detrimental" to the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

"This would be just another tightening of the knot on Gaza." He said 1.2 million Gazans are already receiving emergency food rations and 860,000 people get fed there every day by UNRWA.

According to Gunness, the new Israeli action will "further radicalize the youth," as more are forced into unemployment, and will increase the population's aid dependency.

But Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel must respond to the barrage of attacks.

"We've had a situation where day after day, week after week, month after month, we've had rockets fired from Gaza by extremists, designed to kill our people," Regev said. "The Israeli Cabinet has decided that this situation just can't go on and we will act to defend our citizens."

Meanwhile, Olmert played down expectations for an upcoming U.S.-sponsored peace conference, expressing doubts about whether it would even take place, according to The Associated Press.

He told fundraisers that the summit would not produce a binding peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the AP reported.

But Olmert said he was committed to making the conference a success, and would meet with Abbas on Friday to discuss it, the AP said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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