'Israelis won't negotiate on the flowers to be used at their funeral'

ISRAEL yesterday defended its blockade of Gaza as it began a lobbying campaign in Scotland, claiming the effect on inhabitants of the troubled zone was no worse than the plight of German civilians during British bombings in the Second World War.

Its ambassador, Ron Prosor, said Israel was "a democracy under fire" as he prepared to meet First Minister Alex Salmond and Labour leader Wendy Alexander at Holyrood.

His visit to Scotland came as a report by humanitarian agencies called on Israel to ease its restrictions on Gaza, where 80 per cent of families now rely on food aid, unemployment runs at 40 per cent and one in three homes has no running water.

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In an interview with The Scotsman, Mr Prosor said: "Since we withdrew from Gaza in 2005, 4,500 missiles have fallen on our streets because the area is being run as a terrorist state and a launch pad for rockets.

"We have no interest in blockades but what do we have in our toolbox to prevent the raw materials being brought into the area that are used to make rockets?"

His comments came after more than 20 Jews from Scottish Jews for a Just Peace signed a letter calling on Israel to enter ceasefire talks with Hamas.

Mr Prosor angrily rejected their call, describing those who believed in negotiations with Hamas as "smartarses".

"What is there to negotiate about?" he said. "Negotiate about the flowers to be used for my funeral? Negotiate about how deep the hole from the rockets should be? Negotiate about the size of the coffin?

"How can I negotiate with someone who believes I should not exist?"

Asked about the humanitarian impact of the blockade on Gaza, he said: "I am sure people in Scotland will remember the bombing of Germany during the Second World War and the impact on civilians."

He added: "We want people in Scotland to understand the phenomenon we encounter now: strategic terrorism and suicide bombers who are willing to blow themselves up in restaurants and hotels."

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But Barrie Levine, convener of Scottish Jews for a Just Peace said: "The comparison with the Second World War is fallacious because the Gaza situation does not involve two countries on an equal footing.

"We believe the blockade is no way to achieve peace and that Israel will just have to sit around the table with Hamas."

A spokeswoman for the First Minister confirmed Mr Salmond had met Mr Prosor but declined to reveal what they discussed.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, had threatened not to resume talks with Israel until it reached a truce with Hamas, but this week he backed down following US pressure.

That had come from Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, who made a two-day visit to Israel and the West Bank that she said was aimed at prodding the two sides towards a peace deal before President George Bush steps down next January.

A spokesman for Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, said: "In Gaza, a hostile regime took power that is shooting rockets into Israel on a daily basis. You don't have to have normal economic relations with a country that is shooting at you."


A "HUMANITARIAN implosion" means life for the citizens of Gaza is at its worst since the Israeli occupation in 1967, a coalition of British human rights groups said yesterday.

Poverty and unemployment are rising, hospitals are suffering power cuts for 12 hours a day and the water and sewage systems are close to collapse..

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The report by groups including Amnesty International said poverty and unemployment had deepened dramatically and that 1.1 million people out of a population of 1.5 million were dependent on food aid.

Israeli restrictions had also hit patients in need of medical treatment unavailable in Gaza. Israel granted only 64 per cent of applications for care outside Gaza in December, compared with 89.3 per cent in January 2007.


AT LEAST eight people were killed by a gunman who infiltrated a Jewish seminary in West Jerusalem and then attacked pupils.

Up to ten people were injured in the attack at the Mercaz Harav seminary in the Kiryat Moshe quarter of the city.

Early reports suggested one attacker was killed and police were hunting another.

However, Aharon Franco, commander of Jerusalem police, later said only one attacker opened fire.

He told reporters at the scene that "an Israeli army officer nearby" shot the gunman dead.

It is the worst attack of its kind for a number of years. There were no attacks within Jerusalem last year.

The gunmen entered a dining hall where about 80 people were gathered, witnesses said, and opened fire.