Israelis debate whether to abandon Gaza Strip Idea renewed to close off border


JERUSALEM -- The latest wave of Arab-Israeli violence has intensified the debate among Israelis over whether they should simply pull out of the troublesome Gaza Strip, abandoning it to the Palestinian residents and sealing its borders.

Although previous calls for a unilateral withdrawal were dismissed as impractical, politically as well as militarily, the proposals were renewed after the slaying of two Israelis in downtown Tel Aviv Monday by a Gaza youth and the killing of a 40-year-old gas company employee in a Gaza refugee camp yesterday.

Haim Ramon, the health minister and an influential member of the governing Labor Party, called upon Israel to announce a date for its unilateral withdrawal, if no agreement is reached with Palestinians on autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"Israel has no interest in staying in Gaza," Mr. Ramon said. "Our control of the Gaza Strip is a national disaster. That's the reason we should pull out, not because someone brandished a knife."

Support for a pullout came from the dovish Meretz bloc, Labor's major partner in the government coalition. "We should prepare ourselves for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza," said Ran Cohen, the deputy housing minister.

Avraham Poraz, a Meretz member of Parliament, urged the country to rid itself of "this cancer that is called the Gaza Strip and enable a Palestinian state to be established."

And Interior Minister Arye Deri, the leader of the Shas Party, another coalition partner, said the Cabinet must consider this seriously as an option in its search for an Arab-Israeli peace settlement and a solution to the Palestinian question.

The proposals drew immediate objections from other Cabinet members, who warned that Israel could not be defended from attacks from the Gaza Strip simply by fencing it off. They, as had Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, emphasized the need for a negotiated solution.

In the latest Israeli death, the gas company employee, despite heightened tensions in the wake of the Tel Aviv murders, sought to keep a business appointment at the main fuel depot of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

He turned the wrong way and ran into a hailstorm of stones as he drove into a Palestinian refugee camp.

Trying to back out, he was trapped after he rammed into a stone wall -- and a masked Palestinian gunman with an AK-47 assault rifle fired four shots at close range, killing the man. The victim's identity was withheld by the Israeli military spokesman.

In a separate incident, an Israeli settler from the occupied West Bank reportedly shot to death a 74-year-old Palestinian outside a mosque in the East Jerusalem suburb of Ras Amoud.

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