Envoy criticizes Israel for its Gaza approach

An international envoy has criticized Israel for delaying agreements to open Gaza Strip border crossings following its withdrawal and said that could hinder a Palestinian economic revival.

James Wolfensohn expressed his concern in a letter addressed to the peacemaking Quartet of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, who hope the Gaza pullout could revive a peace "road map".

Quartet envoy Wolfensohn said that because of security concerns, Israel was "almost acting as though there has been no withdrawal, delaying making difficult decisions and preferring to take difficult matters back into slow-moving subcommittees".

Israel said it was doing all that it could to ensure that borders opened as soon as possible, as long as that did not harm its own security or allow a destabilizing flood of weapons and possibly foreign militants into the Gaza Strip.

The Rafah foot crossing to Egypt has been largely shut since troops left. Agreement has still not been reached on a formal re-opening, possibly with foreign monitors to ease Israeli concerns over arms smuggling.

A promised route that would allow safe passage for Palestinians traveling between Gaza and the occupied West Bank has not yet been set up and even the few Gazans who had been allowed to enter Israel have now largely been barred.

Wolfensohn criticized the Palestinian Authority for worsening the economic situation by deciding on a public sector salary hike and because of continuing insecurity.

"Time is short and optimism is a fragile commodity," he said. "If all of us Palestinians, Israelis, our friends in Egypt and donors miss this opportunity for change, we will regret it for the next decade," Reuters quoted Wolfensohn as saying.