Netanyahu: Israel wants to stave off ‘humanitarian collapse’ in Gaza

In Germany, PM says he told Merkel that Palestinian Authority and Hamas to blame for crisis in coastal enclave

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a joint press conference in Berlin, Germany, on June 4, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a joint press conference in Berlin, Germany, on June 4, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel was “examining various possibilities to prevent a humanitarian collapse in Gaza.”

Netanyahu made the remarks to reporters as he was boarding a plane for Paris, after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

“I spoke with Chancellor Merkel about the situation in Gaza and repeated the fact that the entire border situation is due to the economic situation. Plain and simple,” he said.

He stressed that Israel was the main actor and possibly the only one working to improve the situation for the Palestinians in the coastal enclave, saying that neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas was helping them.

“Regarding Gaza, we are exploring various options to prevent a humanitarian collapse there,” Netanyahu said.

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires near the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City, on May 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

He blamed the humanitarian situation in Gaza on PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to freeze the salaries of PA employees in Gaza, as well as Hamas’s investment in terror.

He told the press gaggle, “I described for the chancellor how the crisis in Gaza came about — Abu Mazen’s salary cuts and Hamas’s investments in the tunnels,” he said, using an alternative name for Abbas.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a press conference after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on June 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tobias SCHWARZ)

“The tunnels built by Hamas under Gaza are the equivalent of six huge towers,” the prime minister said. “It’s a huge investment that goes down the drain for them because we destroy it.”

Netanyahu said that he told Merkel that the Palestinian protests and riots adjacent to the Gaza border, which had led to over 100 dead and thousands injured by IDF troops defending the border, were the response to the economic crisis.

“Their converging on the border fence is a result of this financial crisis,” he said. “It is a conscious decision.”

Gaza faces a lack of electricity, drinkable water, and food. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip which they say is designed to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and other goods that could be used to build fortifications or tunnels.

Israel has also said the humanitarian situation will not improve until Hamas returns the bodies of two IDF soldiers and the two civilians captives it holds. It blames Hamas for the dire situation, charging the terror group with diverting millions in aid to purchase weapons, dig tunnels, manufacture rockets and train its military wing, instead of using it for the welfare of the people.

The situation has been exacerbated by an ongoing dispute between Hamas and the PA, which has cut the salaries it pays to workers in Gaza and imposed various sanctions, including cutting of payments for electricity supplies to Gaza.

A senior IDF officer said last week that the situation in Gaza was at a nadir.

“Hamas is in its worst situation since it came to power [in 2007], and the same is true of the Gaza Strip. The responsibility for that lies first of all with Hamas, but we can also take steps,” he said. “Hamas is trying to figure out how to save itself from collapse, and it has only two solutions: reaching an arrangement [for quiet with Israel], or turning to military confrontation.”

Earlier Monday, in a joint press conference with Merkel, Netanyahu discussed the issue of long-dormant peace talks with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu said, “Our hand is always extended in peace,” while arguing that Israel’s improving relationships with Arab states were “most promising route.”

Merkel said, “There isn’t agreement on all points. But we’re partners, we’re friends.”

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