Israeli FM: Deploy Int'l. Force at Gaza Border

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman released a ministry statement on Tuesday calling for deployment of an international force along Gaza's border with Egypt.

Lieberman referred specifically to the Rafah crossing and the Philadelphi Corrider - a narrow strip of land separating the Gaza Strip from the Egyptian Sinai.

In an op-ed piece entitled "Europe's Irresponsible Gaza Policy, published in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, Lieberman explains why the European Union's Gaza policy "confuses the source of the current problem with one of its symptoms."

The foreign minister called a recent EU statement calling for the "immediate, sustained and unconditional opening" of the Gaza border crossings "irresponsible, immoral and unjustified."

Instead, he suggests the EU assume a more productive role in alleviating the situation by stationing an international force along the border to thwart smuggling.

"I can affirm that a cessation of the smuggling will lead to the lifting of restrictions," Lieberman said. "However, the State of Israel cannot be expected to forgo its fundamental security interests without the removal of this grave threat and the ongoing assault against Israeli towns that it continues to fuel," he said.

In the press release, Lieberman compared the economic growth in Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - with the Gaza Strip.

"Economic growth and the consistent rise in the standard of living among the inhabitants of Judea and Samaria are living proof of fruitful cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority," he wrote.

"With improvements in the security situation in Judea and Samaria, Israel relaxed the security measures and enhanced the mobility of the Palestinian population.

"Over the past year, more than two-thirds of the roadblocks have been removed. The Palestinians made the most of these new conditions. Their economy is booming and tourism to the area has witnessed a dramatic increase. This basic pattern can serve as a model for Gaza," Lieberman suggested.

Hamas, the Palestinian faction controlling the Gaza, has dug hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the border near the Rafah crossing.

The IDF - Israel Defense Forces - destroyed several hundred tunnels during Operation Cast Lead two years ago, but many have been rebuilt.

And while the IDF succeeded in greatly reducing rocket fire by Gaza-based Palestinians on southern Israeli communities, it did not stop it altogether.  

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IMRA contributed to this report.

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