Wednesday's decision by the mini-security cabinet to declare Gaza a "hostile entity" continues to make international waves - while Defense Minister Ehud Barak says a large-scale Israeli attack on Gaza is coming closer.

The Defense Minister presented information to his ministerial colleagues, showing that terrorists in Hamas-controlled Gaza have fired 700 Kassam rockets towards Sderot, the Negev and Ashkelon since the beginning of the year. He said that Arabs in Gaza have fired a total of some 4,000 since the year 2001, causing 14 deaths.

The Defense Minister feels there will ultimately be no choice other than to attack the terror infrastructures in Gaza, and "it appears that every passing day brings a broad military operation closer." 

Though the US was supportive, the United Nations was quick to condemn the Israeli decision. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called on Israel to reconsider it, saying that detaching of a civilian population from vital supplies would be in violation of international law and would cause suffering to an already-suffering population.

The Gaza population voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Hamas terrorist organization in the Palestinian Authority election last year. Islamic Jihad, which also enjoys a measure of support in Gaza, has already announced that it will continue to fire rockets, despite the Israeli decision.

Hamas, Fatah and Arab MKs Agree

Hamas was not happy with the government's decision, calling it a "declaration of war [that] continues the criminal, terrorist Zionist actions against our people."

Hamas-rival Fatah was also critical. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Fatah anti-Israel military organization, called the plan an "oppressive decision" that will "increase the suffering of 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip."

Israeli-Arab MK Taleb A-Sana said, "Israel is defining [Gaza] as a hostile entity in order to excuse itself from war crimes."

All of Gaza's fuel, including diesel, gasoline and natural gas, comes from Israel, as does 62.5% of Gaza's electricity.  So says Stuart Shepherd of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Another 28.6% of Gaza's electricity comes from Gaza's power plant, which depends on Israeli fuel. The remainder of the electricity comes from Egypt.

Opinions at Home

The coalition member Shas Party, strongly in favor of the decision, has long called for cutting off electricity to Gaza in response to Kassam attacks.  Minister Yitzhak Cohen said at the meeting that Israel must make it clear that every rocket will lead to an immediate Israeli response against Gaza.  "The Gaza power switch should be directly linked to the rocket's tail," he said.

MK Yossi Beilin, chairman of the far-left Meretz party, said the decision was both foolish and dangerous.  "Instead of dealing with the situation and trying to prevent its further deterioration," he said, "this only strengthens Hamas." 

On the other side of the spectrum, the nationalist camp said the decision was long overdue.  "This is something we should have done the moment the first Kassam was fired," said MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud). "We continue to pay dearly for the hesitancy characteristic of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government," he said, adding that there is no need to wait before actually cutting back on the fuel and electricity supplied to Gaza.

MK Tzvi Hendel (National Union) said the move was not enough and would not help stop the rocket attacks against Israel: "The goal must be a military operation that will lead to the complete destruction of the terror infrastructure in Gaza. So long as the government continues to tie the IDF's hands on this matter, the catastrophic security situation is the government's fault."

What About Egypt?

Gonen Ginat, former editor of the National Religious Party-affiliated HaTzofeh newspaper, criticized those who say that the decision will lead the citizens of Gaza to despair: "I see.  So what will happen now?  They will start firing Kassams at Sderot?  ... It's insane.  From the moment we ran away from Gaza, the Palestinians stubbornly insist on trying to fire rockets at the electricity plant that supplies them with electricity - while we announced that no matter what they did, we would continue to give them electricity... Never in the history of man has it happened that a country supplied electricity and work to its enemies, or bought produce from them, during a war."

"Gaza has a border not only with the Zionist enemy," Gonen writes, "but also with its Egyptian brothers.  If the situation is so difficult, let them turn to their Arab brothers.  If tons of explosives can be passed from Egypt to Gaza, electricity can also get there."