Intelligence minister calls to end fuel, water supply to Gaza

Yisrael Katz says Israel should correct ‘anomalous’ responsibility for Palestinian enclave and sever all ties

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Transport and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz speaks at the Israel Aviation Conference at Airport City, on May 2, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Transport and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz speaks at the Israel Aviation Conference at Airport City, on May 2, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A senior minister on Wednesday said Israel should rid itself of responsibility for the Gaza Strip by cutting all of its ties to the Palestinian enclave, including ending water and electricity supplies.

Intelligence Minister Israel Katz spoke to the Hebrew-language Walla news website several hours into a period of calm on Wednesday after Palestinian terrorists fired over 100 rockets and mortars at towns and cities in southern Israel since early Tuesday. The IDF responded with dozens of airstrikes on Hamas military targets.

“The time has come to change the rules of the game. I support the idea of separation from Gaza,” said Katz, who is also transportation minister. “There is no compromise and no concession, we will not allow harm to our citizens and not a trickle [of rockets]. I estimate that soon that matter will be decided.”

“We need to separate from Gaza, to stop the fuel and water, and to rely on military power as in the case with southern Lebanon,” Katz said. “There is an anomalous situation here that happened at the end of the disengagement, and we remained responsible.”

Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, ending its military presence and evacuating thousands of Jewish settlers. Israel continues to supply some of Gaza’s electric power needs and sells water to Gaza. After the Hamas terror group seized control of the territory from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, Israel and Egypt imposed a sea blockade on Gaza in an effort to prevent Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, from bringing in weapons. Goods are shipped to Israel ports, inspected for weapons or military capabilities, and then trucked into Gaza through border crossings.

Aid officials have warned that Gaza is facing a humanitarian crisis due to a deteriorated infrastructure that has left Gazans with inadequate supplies of drinking water and severe power shortages.

The site where a mortar shell from Gaza hit a kindergarten in southern Israel on May 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Army Radio reported that overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, Israeli Electric Corporation workers began work to repair power lines which were damaged by a Palestinian rocket, cutting off electric supplies to areas in southern Gaza.

The damage to three power lines leading to Gaza was preventing the flow of electricity to the southern areas of the beleaguered coastal enclave, an IEC spokesperson said Tuesday evening, leaving tens of thousands of Gazans with no electricity.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz had ordered the company to hold off repair work until the fire ended in the restive border region, so as not to “endanger its workers.” However, the work began even though rocket fire continued until 5 a.m.

Over the course of 22 hours, from 7 a.m. Tuesday to 5:17 a.m. Wednesday, sirens were triggered at least 166 times in southern Israel, according to the IDF Home Front Command, by mortar fire, rockets or, in some cases, heavy machine gun fire.

The number of rockets and mortar shells fired over the course of those 22 hours was greater than in the previous three years and 10 months, since the 2014 war, combined.

In response, Israel struck more than 65 targets in the Gaza Strip belonging to Hamas and the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad, including a Hamas attack tunnel that traveled from the Gaza Strip, through Egypt and into Israel.

Late Tuesday night, the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, who claimed responsibility for the majority of the attacks throughout the day, said that an Egypt-brokered ceasefire agreement had been reached, based on the truce that ended the 2014 war.

Israeli officials — including Katz himself — repeatedly denied that it had reached an agreement, but a senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated to reporters that an understanding had been reached under which Israel would not conduct additional strikes in Gaza so long as no more rockets or mortar shells were fired, but would act forcefully if they were.

The head of the IDF’s Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir declared Wednesday that terror groups in the Gaza Strip were “very deeply deterred” by the air force’s aerial bombardment.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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