RAMALLAH ø The United States has maintained its travel ban on the
Gaza Strip, hampering aid projects there, because Palestinian authorities have made been slow to investigate an ambush that killed three Americans.
Palestinian security sources said the ban was imposed in October 2003
when three U.S. embassy security guards were killed in an attack on a convoy
north of Gaza City. The sources said the ban was maintained amid the failure
of the Palestinian Authority to capture those responsible for the attack.
PA National Security Adviser Brig.Gen. Jibril Rajoub said the United
States has been dismayed by the failure of the PA to conclude its
investigation of the Oct. 15 attack, Middle East Newsline reported. Rajoub said that the absence of U.S.
officials and embassy staffers have hampered aid projects in the Gaza Strip.
"The Americans stopped their involvement waiting for the results [of the
PA investigation]," Rajoub told a news conference on Wednesday in Ramallah.
"This is blackmail."
Rajoub said the United States has also threatened to suspend U.S. Agency
for International Development programs in the Gaza Strip unless the killers
of the Americans were captured. U.S. AID is said to have about $200 million
worth of projects in the area.
The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv has refused to comment, but a diplomatic
source confirmed the travel ban on the Gaza Strip.The embassy released a
statement that reiterated a $5 million award for the capture of the
attackers of the U.S. convoy.
State Department officials said the PA has acknowledged that it failed
to capture any suspects or gather any hard leads in the attack. They said
AID projects have not been suspended in the Gaza Strip.
"Our position is that there needs to be a resolution of the security
situation in Gaza, including apprehension of those who are responsible for
the killing of U.S. officials there," State Department spokesman Richard
Boucher said on Wednesday. "We have seen some cooperation, but we think that
cooperation needs to be further increased. And that's something we do talk
to the Palestinians about on a regular basis."
After the October attack, a wing of the ruling Fatah movement headed by
PA Chairman Yasser Arafat claimed responsibility for the attack. Later,
Fatah denied any responsibility.
"Many Americans are being killed everywhere, even in Iraq, even in
Afghanistan, and the Americans are investigating, and still they haven't
arrested those people," Rajoub said. "I don't think they should blame the
In late 2003, a Western intelligence source said the United States
believed that the Fatah insurgents were employed by an Al Qaida operative in
the Gaza Strip. The assertion was not confirmed by the United States.
On Thursday, Israeli military sources said Islamic Jihad has tried to
establish a naval squad to conduct attacks on Israeli targets. The sources
said an insurgent was responsible for purchasing motorized rubber boats for
what appeared to be suicide attacks from the Gaza Strip on Israeli targets
along the Mediterranean coast.