Israel split on plight of Gaza asylum-seekers

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — The plight of some 200 Gazans, stranded in no-man’s-land on the Israeli border in a desperate bid to flee last week’s Islamist takeover of the territory, is dividing Israeli opinion.

In an editorial in the liberal daily Haaretz, left-wing former MP Yossi Sarid called on Israel as a country that prides itself on its relief work around the world to help the asylum-seekers, who include women and children.

“We would never turn our backs… on women and children who are in trouble and whose lives might even be in danger,” Sarid wrote.

“We will go to the ends of the earth to save a single soul but we won’t reach the Erez Crossing (with Gaza) in sufficient time.” The Israeli army said it was providing the families living in desperate conditions at Erez with food and water but rejected the idea of helping them reach the occupied West Bank, saying they may include fighters who had been involved in attacks on Israel.

“Some 200 asylum-seekers are at Erez and we are giving them food and water each day,” army liaison Colonel Nir Press told public radio.

“It is clear to all of us that we don’t want to see an influx into Judea and Samaria (the occupied West Bank) of militants of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades (an armed offshoot of president MahmOud Abbas’s Fateh faction) who may have been involved in rocket attacks in planning assaults,” he said.

“We don’t know who these people are.” But Sarid retorted on army radio: “That’s the dumb logic of a bureaucrat. What have these women and children, the elderly and the sick got to do with that sort of thing?” The desperate families, many of them linked to the defeated mainstream security services loyal to Abbas, find themselves caught in a deadly logjam between an Israeli army determined to keep them out and Hamas members, some of whom are bent on revenge.

On Monday, one asylum-seeker was killed and three wounded when Israeli troops opened fire at Erez, Palestinian medics said. The army said the fire came from a Palestinian gunman.

A Gaza gunman threw a grenade and opened fire on a group of a dozen asylum-seekers near the crossing, the Israeli army said.

The Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross, Magen David Adom, said army opposition had forced it to postpone plans to send in ambulances to evacuate the wounded on Tuesday.

“The security situation does not allow us to permit the evacuation of the wounded for the time being,” an army spokesman said. “But as soon as it is possible, we will let the ambulances through.”

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