Israel prepares for possible Gaza invasion

Eleven Palestinians were killed and 20 others were wounded on September 27 when Israel resumed bombing the Gaza Strip. The bombings are widely seen as a precursor to a wide-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip promised by Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak earlier in September and came in the wake of Israel declaring the Gaza Strip an "enemy entity" on September 19.

Israel's declaration laid the groundwork for wide-scale cuts to fuel, electricity and other vital supplies to 1.5 million Palestinians in the region in an attempt to isolate Hamas, which took control of the region in June. The declaration is intended to circumvent international law governing the administration of an occupied territory, which makes it illegal for an occupying power to carry out collective punishment against a civilian population.

Israel's move was approved by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was in Israel at the time. Rice told CBS News that Hamas "is a hostile entity to us as well".

Hamas said that the Israeli cabinet's decision amounted to "a declaration of war". In a September 19 interview with Al Jazeera, Hamas's Fawzi Barhoum said that the aim was "to starve our people and force them to accept humiliating formulas that could emerge from the so-called [US-sponsored] November peace conference".

Mustapha Barghouthi, information minister in the defunct Hamas-Fatah unity government, told news agency Maan News on September 20 it was "part of [Israel's] overall strategy to fragment the Occupied Palestinian Territories [OPT]". He said that this demonstrates the emptiness of Israel's claims that it will assist in the setting up of a viable Palestinian state.

Although the office of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israel's move, saying that it "discourages serious political discussion", a senior Fatah member and political aide to Abbas, Ahmad Abdul Rahman, denounced Hamas as an "illegal entity" in an interview with the US-based Sawa radio station.

Abbas and the unelected government of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have continued to work closely with the Israeli occupiers against Hamas. On September 22, Israeli soldiers and PA police carried out a joint raid on the village of Huwwara, just south of Nablus, arresting more than 100 residents, many of them Hamas members. According to the September 23 Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel has also approved the deployment of 500 armed PA police officers in a bid to control Nablus, one of the main centres of resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Israel has also attempted to bolster Abbas and the unelected Fayyad government by releasing 90 Palestinian prisoners, mostly Fatah members, during the holy month of Ramadan. However, more than 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners remain in Israeli jails. Israel has also promised once again to remove at least 20 roadblocks throughout the occupied West Bank. However, a report issued by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories on September 21 found that, over the two previous months, rather than dismantle roadblocks, Israel had established 40 new ones, bring the total number of roadblocks in the OPT to 572.