Gaza in danger of turning into a 'giant prison', says Mideast envoy

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The Independent Online

James Wolfensohn, the former chairman of the World Bank, warned yesterday that Gaza was in danger of becoming a "giant prison" after Israeli withdrawal unless there was swift agreement on freeing the passage of goods and people through border crossings.

Although the word "prison" has been frequently used by Palestinians impatient for better access to the outside world for Gaza's imports and exports, Mr Wolfensohn's resort to the metaphor reflects frustration at the lack of progress in talks between the two sides, particularly on the Karni crossing between Gaza and Israel.

Mr Wolfensohn, the West's special envoy on post-disengagement Gaza, is to leave the region on Wednesday and is reportedly hoping that the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who arrived here last night, will inject new momentum into talks between Israel and the Palestinians on the border issue.

Mr Wolfensohn, who warned the next 72 hours were crucial, was reportedly critical of Israelis and Palestinians, saying he had heard reports of explosive devices being taken across Karni in lorries.

Former US President, Bill Clinton, who is here with his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, for the commemoration of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination praised disengagement from Gaza but urged the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to pursue dialogue with Palestinians.

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