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Israel to impose tougher sanctions on PalestiniansFri Feb 17, 2006 06:50 AM ET
By Adam Entous
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's leaders planned on Friday to approve tougher restrictions on the Palestinians, in a bid to weaken Hamas as it assumes control of parliament and starts to form a government, Israeli officials said.
Under a plan expected to be adopted by interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinians would be barred from working in Israel or traveling across Israel between Gaza and the West Bank after a Hamas-led parliament is sworn in on Saturday.
Olmert was expected to order a halt to further tax revenue transfers to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority to pressure Hamas, winner of the January 25 Palestinian election, to renounce violence, recognize the Jewish state and abide by interim peace deals.
The new restrictions would start to take effect on Sunday after a meeting of Olmert's cabinet, political sources said.
"What's important is that the Palestinians realize the consequences of their vote," said a senior Israeli source, speaking on condition of anonymity because Olmert has yet to announce his decision.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the Islamic militant group's supporters would weather what he called Israel's "policies of oppression and collective punishment."
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Hamas had started reaching out to Iran, seeking funding and guidance in how to run the Palestinian Authority.
Ahead of the decision, a U.S. State Department official cautioned Israel to take into account "the consequences of any move, especially with an eye to avoiding increasing any hardship for Palestinians."
Gideon Meir, a deputy director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, said Israel had no intention of making Palestinian people's lives "miserable."
"Our intention is to make it clear that Israel will not be dealing with a terrorist organization called Hamas," Meir said.
Hamas has masterminded nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000, but has largely adhered to a truce declared in March last year.
Despite the expected clampdown on a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, Israel wants to maintain ties with President Mahmoud Abbas, who will ask Hamas on Saturday to form a government that will respect peace deals with Israel and put a stop to violence.
"We need to hurt Hamas but not hurt the Palestinian people or the Palestinian president," veteran Israeli statesman Shimon Peres told Army Radio.
Taking a tough line on Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, could boost Olmert's political standing in the run-up to Israel's March 28 general election.
Opinion polls predict his centrist Kadima party will win on a platform of disengaging from the Palestinians.
But the expected work and travel restrictions would be largely symbolic, affecting only a few thousand Palestinians.
Israel has imposed strict limits on the number of workers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and on travel between the territories since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000.
It has had mixed results persuading other countries to cut funding and ties to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
Israel has said it will consider Saturday's swearing-in ceremony to be the start of a Hamas-led government, although it could take several weeks for the group to form a cabinet.
Olmert was expected to freeze plans to build a Gaza seaport and rebuild its airport. Under interim peace deals, Israel, which withdrew from Gaza last year, still controls its airspace and coastal waters.
Officials said Israel had decided against cutting off water and power to the Palestinians.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza)