JERUSALEM — Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip was meant to push the area's economy "to the brink of collapse," according to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks on Wednesday, signaling that Israel was well aware that the policy was taking a heavy toll on the area's civilian population.
Israeli leaders have long maintained that the blockade was necessary to weaken the ruling Hamas militant group. The newly released document, published in Norway's Aftenposten newspaper, indicates that Israel hoped to accomplish that goal by targeting Gaza's 1.5 million people.
According to the March 3, 2008, cable written by an American official, Israeli officials told American diplomats "on multiple occasions that they intend to keep Gaza's economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge."
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev refused to comment.
Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas militants routed forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and seized control of Gaza in June 2007. Its official policy was that it would never allow a humanitarian crisis to develop in Gaza.
The blockade failed to oust Hamas, though it brought Gaza's economy to a virtual standstill. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost, exports have been largely halted, and for three years, Israel carefully monitored which types of consumer goods were allowed into the territory, while allowing all basic humanitarian goods in.
Under heavy international pressure, Israel has been easing the blockade since a deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound international flotilla last May. There are now virtually no restrictions on the entrance of consumer goods, and some Gaza businesses are again exporting.
Construction materials, sorely needed to repair damage from an Israeli military offensive two years ago, are still largely banned from entering. Israel claims they can be used by Hamas for fortifications.
The militant Islamic Hamas does not accept a role for a Jewish state in the Middle East and has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel, killing hundreds. Some more pragmatic Hamas figures would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem as a temporary measure.
Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Palestinian militants have fired thousands of rockets at Israel's south. Israel holds Hamas responsible and claims Hamas gets financial backing and weapons from Iran.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the Wikileaks cable "more evidence of the crimes that the (Israeli) occupation government has done to our people."