A trench grows in Gaza

jerusalem (ap) | Israel published a bid for an 80-foot-deep trench between Egypt and Gaza that would block Palestinian arms smuggling after Israel withdraws from the coastal strip next year.

The trench would cost millions, and military officials said Thursday, June 17, it remains unclear whether more Palestinian homes would have to be demolished to make room for it.

The Israeli proposal came as a U.S. House of Representatives’ resolution endorsing President Bush’s diplomatic assurances to Israel passed Wednesday, June 23, by a 407-9 vote. The bipartisan resolution endorses Bush’s recognition of some Israeli land claims in the West Bank and his rejection of any Palestinian refugee “right of return” to Israel.

Israel has razed hundreds of Gaza homes in recent years, including in a large offensive last month, to expose smuggling tunnels. In the Rafah refugee camp on the border with Egypt, the demolitions have displaced more than 13,000 Palestinians.

The plan still needs Cabinet approval.

On Thursday, June 17, the Defense Ministry published a tender for a trench that is 2.5 miles long and 80 feet deep. Military officials said the trench would be nearly 400 feet wide and perhaps be lined with cement, but for ecological reasons would not be filled with water.

Once the bids are received in a month or two, the Defense Ministry will decide whether a trench is feasible, a military official said on condition of anonymity.

The trench would run along an Israeli military patrol road between Gaza and Egypt that is up to 200 yards wide and cuts into the Rafah camp.

The trench idea will be presented next week to Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who is mediating between Israel and the Palestinians on the Gaza withdrawal, which is to be concluded by the end of September 2005.

Egypt gave Yasser Arafat two months to prepare Palestinian Authority security forces to take over the Gaza Strip once Israel withdraws. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman delivered the ultimatum in a meeting with Arafat in Ramallah pledging that if the reform requirement is met, Cairo will send advisers to Gaza to further bolster Palestinian Authority control there.