Israel Threatens to Restrict Trade At Gaza Frontier

Israel threatened on Friday to restrict trade across its frontier with Gaza if the Palestinians fail to address its security concerns at the newly opened border crossing between Gaza and Egypt within two days.

The restrictions, if carried out, would further choke Gaza's already shaky economy and damage hopes for renewed cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians following Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip in September.

The threat was made at a meeting between Israeli officials and international mediators. The Associated Press obtained notes of the session.

Early Saturday, an Israeli naval boat patrolling the Gaza coast shot and killed a Palestinian in the town of Rafah near the Egyptian border, Palestinian officials said. Israel had no immediate comment.

Palestinian medical officials identified the slain man as Nazen Farhat, 27. A second man who was with Farhat was missing, the officials said.

The Rafah terminal opened Nov. 26 under the supervision of European monitors, giving Palestinians control of a border for the first time.

Israel has complained in recent days that the Palestinians were violating a U.S.-brokered agreement by not providing instant information on people crossing from Egypt into Gaza. As a result, Israel said last week up to 15 militants, including the brother of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, were allowed in.

U.S. officials told a separate meeting of the so-called Quartet of international mediators Friday that the Palestinians were complying with the Rafah agreement and that any delay in relaying information was the result of technological problems that American experts were trying to resolve, according to notes of that meeting also obtained by the AP.

Meanwhile, the Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said Friday that the militant group would not renew its truce with Israel when it expires at the end of the year. The truce, brokered in February, sharply reduced violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mashaal said Israel had failed to honor it.

"I say enough to the truce," he told more than 1,000 supporters in a Palestinian refugee camp outside the Syrian capital of Damascus.

The Palestinian Authority said Mashaal's statement appeared to be an attempt to sabotage Palestinian parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 25, in which Hamas is challenging Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party.

In addition to the agreement over Rafah, the deal reached last month with the assistance of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also called for a bus link between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to begin running by Dec. 15 and for a large increase in the cargo traffic allowed to pass through the Karni terminal between Gaza and Israel by the end of the year.

Israel said Friday it was freezing implementation of the entire agreement until its problems with the Rafah crossing were addressed.

Israel's threat to begin treating its frontier with Gaza as an international border starting Sunday would require even more stringent checks at the crossings and could mean Gaza's removal from a customs union with the West Bank and Israel.

About 9,000 Gazans have permits to cross through the Erez terminal every day to work in Israel, and the Karni cargo terminal is the major outlet for the export of Gaza's goods.

The chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the Israeli threat, saying the Palestinians were working to address all issues at Rafah as quickly as possible with the help of the European monitors.

"The Rafah terminal has been functioning for two weeks only, and anybody with a sane mind should not expect the border between Germany and France," he said, adding that the Europeans and not Israel should be the judges of Palestinian compliance with the agreement.