Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak approved electricity and fuel cuts against Palestinians living in the impoverished Gaza Strip on Thursday in an effort to curb rocket attacks on the Jewish state.The decision was announced after Barak convened top army brass and defence officials to review a series of sanctions on the Gaza Strip in the wake of Israelâ€™s classification of the Hamas-run territory as a â€œhostile entityâ€ in September.â€œDefence Minister Ehud Barak approved the recommendations from defence officials for periodic cuts in electricity and limitations on fuel supplies, given the continued rocket attacks,â€ his ministry announced.
Officials did not say precisely when the measures would come into effect but no further government approval is necessary before implementing the sanctions. The Islamist Hamas movement, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, slammed the sanctions as collective punishment.
â€œThis is part of the collective punishment meted out by the occupation government against Palestinian residents in Gaza. This is a new crime against the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in Gaza,â€ spokesman Taher Nunu said.
â€œIsraeli aggression is the reason for the rocket attacks. Israeli assassinations have not stopped in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, causing Palestinian revenge for which Israel is responsible,â€ he added.
Israel says it wants the new sanctions to raise pressure on Gazaâ€™s already impoverished population in an effort to force Palestinian fighters to stop rocket attacks against southern Israel that the army has struggled to curb.
â€œThere is no need for additional approval from the Cabinet and the measures will be implemented gradually as warranted,â€ a defence ministry spokesman said.
Although the rockets fired towards Israeli settlements frequently explode causing no damage or casualties, Israelis in communities near the border with the Gaza Strip live in fear from the fire and are furious with the government for not halting the attacks.
â€œWe are left with no choice but to take these steps. I assume they will have an effect, even if not immediately,â€ said Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai before Barakâ€™s decision was announced.
â€œWe are looking at a gradual disengagement from Gaza in terms of electricity supplies so they can supply electricity for themselves,â€ he told army radio. But human rights organisations, as well as the Palestinians, charge that any such move amounts to collective punishment of the civilian population, crammed into the narrow coastal enclave, in breach of international law.
The Carter Centre, founded by former US president Jimmy Carter, urged Israel to maintain energy supplies to Gaza. â€œThe Carter Centre sees this proposal as the collective punishment of 1.4 million people for the actions of a few,â€ it said before the Israeli defence ministerâ€™s decision was announced.
Gaza was already reeling from a Western freeze on direct aid after Hamas won elections in 2006 and over 80 per cent of its population depends on foreign aid.