Russians try to escape from Gaza

Hundreds of Gaza residents, including Russian citizens, are trying to leave the region through the Erez checkpoint. The crossing has been closed since factional fighting broke out between Hamas and Fatah.

Most of those trapped are Russian women with Palestinian husbands. Meanwhile, Moscow has reportedly given Israel a list with the names of 138 Russians who should be evacuated from the Palestinian territories with the help of Israel.

Israeli and Russian officials say they are working together to get the women home as soon as possible.

“More that a hundred Russian citizens requested for evacuation from the Strip. We are doing everything possible to assist them, to enable them to leave and return to Russia. Unfortunately, so far the crossing points between Gaza and the neighbouring countries are closed. Once they are open, we will do everything possible to settle the remaining issues,” said Andrey Demidov, Minister Counsellor for Russian Embassy in Israel.

The head of the Russian mission in Palestine, Aleksey Pogodin, says the situation is complicated by the fact that Israel treats the women family members as Palestinians even though they have Russian passports.

“We have a list of 120 names of people who wish to leave the country. But there's another aspect here – it is not just Russian women with their children, but also their husbands, who, according to Russian law in act prior to 2002, had received Russian passports after marrying Russian citizens. We consider these men our citizens, but Israeli authorities see them as Palestinians, saying it does not matter what passports they have. What it is now is a case of whom the Israelis will let leave,” explained Mr Pogodin. “Russian women say they won't leave their husbands behind. We had approximately the same situation last summer during the Israeli attack on Gaza territory. We had received about 100 applications, but as soon as applicants learned the Israeli government wouldn't allow their husbands to go with them, they stayed back and we only had 30 people eventually leaving.”

Meanwhile, one Palestinian has been killed and ten others wounded in a shooting incident at the Israel-Gaza border. Israeli rescue services say Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers exchanged fire at the Erez crossing in the north of Gaza.

All entrances in and out of Gaza Strip have been sealed off for days. Israeli authorities say they have no intention of opening the borders until the situation inside Gaza stabilizes.

But like the rest of the international community, they are concerned about humanitarian needs.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says her government will resume transfers of tax revenue it has withheld from the Palestinians but only if the newly-formed government commits itself to the goal of a future Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel.

“We are willing to work with those who support the goal of two-state solution, those who understand and accept the right of Israel to exist. With this kind of government, Israel will work with and of course, release the money,” Tzipi Livni said.

Earlier, the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said the EU will resume direct aid to the Palestinian Autonomy to support Mahmoud Abbas' newly sworn-in emergency government. Western countries imposed the aid embargo after the Hamas movement refused to recognise the state of Israel.

“There will be a part of the money that will be direct. The part that will have to go to Gaza, probably we have to see how it goes and for that we have to continue talking with Fayyad, we talked with him last night, still he doesn't know. But it is very important that he is able to construct a budget and through that budget he will be able to help both the people in Gaza and the people in West Bank,” Javier Solana commented.

Mr Solana's comments come after many countries have come out in support for the new government.

Meantime, Russia says it fully supports Mahmoud Abbas' new emergency government. Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mikhail Kamynin, says the new cabinet should take responsibility for the region now.

“Russia, together with the other members of the Middle East Quartet, supports the decision by the head of the Palestinian national administration, Mahmoud Abbas, to form a new government. We think that the new cabinet should immediately take all steps needed to ease the crisis, to improve the humanitarian situation and to start an inter-Palestinian dialogue which will include Hamas,” Mikhail Kamynin stressed.

The United States also supported the new cabinet, promising to lift the 18-month-long embargo on international aid, which ruined the Palestinian Autonomy’s economy and intensified tensions between the rival factions.

Meanwhile, Hamas has condemned the new Palestinian government saying it violates the principles of democracy and the wishes of the Palestinian people.

Speaking on Rusiya Al-Yaum – Russia Today's sister channel, broadcasting in Arabic – political analyst Muhammad Abdel Hamid says that while Hamas has called Fatah's actions illegal, they also consider themselves above the law.

“Hamas has put itself above the law. The movement staged a military coup lead by parliament members elected in a democratic way. The have put the law aside. The interim Palestinian constitution has it that the head of the state is authorized to dismiss the government and also call a state of emergency. The government denies this law. Hamas has its own budget and its own military police for a long time. Following their victory in the parliamentary election Hamas refused to incorporate their institutions into the existing structures so that Palestine could have united power and the united army. The Israeli government put a blockade around Palestine. Their promises are mere words. We have to get back more than $US 7 MLN which have been stolen. Our nation has been impoverished and our infrastructure has been ruined. The Israeli government continues to carry out its aggressive raid every day. They break agreements, they ignore the law as well as the Quartet resolutions and the will of the international community. This blockade has made things even worse,” the political analyst says.

Tatyana Karasova from the Institute of Oriental Studies says failure of the talks shows that Hamas missed a chance to settle the crisis.

“Previous meetings between Russian officials and Hamas show that Russia has always been ready to use every means possible to settle the conflict peacefully. The Russian side tried to convince the political leaders of Hamas to accept the three international demands – to stop terrorist activity, to recognise the state of Israel and to honour all the previous agreements between the two sides. During the talks Moscow fully complied with the stance agreed by the Middle East Quartet. When no progress was achieved at those talks I think Hamas lost its opportunity to get peaceful control of the situation,” she explained.