JERUSALEM — Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip was meant to push the area's economy "to the brink of collapse," according to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks on Wednesday, signaling that Israel was well aware that the policy was taking a heavy toll on the area's civilian population.
Israeli leaders have long maintained that the blockade was necessary to weaken the ruling Hamas militant group.
The March 2008 document, published Wednesday by Norway's Aftenposten newspaper, indicates that Israel hoped to accomplish that goal by targeting Gaza's 1.5 million people.
Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas militants seized control of Gaza in June 2007.
According to the cable, Israeli officials repeatedly told American diplomats that the embargo sought to damage the Gazan economy.
"Israeli officials have confirmed to Embassy officials on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis," it says.
"As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed ... on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge," it adds.
High-ranking Israeli official
The cable is headed "secret" and contains the name of a high-ranking official in the Israeli security establishment, followed by "strictly protect" in brackets.
It details Israel's concern to control the flow of money to Hamas, saying Israel's National Security Council, part of Israel's security and intelligence community, "abides by the principal that Gaza should receive just enough money for the basic needs of the population but ... is not interested in returning the Gazan economy to a state of normal commerce and business."
"The agency tries to approve a reasonable amount of new money for entry into the territory each month; however, it will not permit any large scale transfer of assets from Ramallah-based banks to their branches in Gaza for fear of improving the purchasing power of entities wishing to harm Israel," the cable adds.
The cable concludes by saying that the U.S. government "should continue to encourage the Israelis to approve as much funding as possible each month, consistent with our mutual political/security objectives in Gaza."
It adds that the U.S. should also "continue to assist the PA to improve its regulatory regimes and due diligence."
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the WikiLeaks cable "more evidence of the crimes that the (Israeli) occupation government has done to our people."
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev refused to comment.
Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas militants routed forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and seized control of Gaza in June 2007.
Its official policy was that it would never allow a humanitarian crisis to develop in Gaza.Video: Growing up behind the blockade in Gaza (on this page)
The blockade failed to oust Hamas, though it brought Gaza's economy to a virtual standstill.
Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost, exports have been largely halted, and for three years, Israel carefully monitored which types of consumer goods were allowed into the territory, while allowing all basic humanitarian goods in.
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Under heavy international pressure, Israel has been easing the blockade since a deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound international flotilla last May.
There are now virtually no restrictions on the entrance of consumer goods, and some Gaza businesses are again exporting.
Construction materials, sorely needed to repair damage from an Israeli military offensive two years ago, are still largely banned from entering. Israel claims they can be used by Hamas for fortifications.
The militant Islamic Hamas does not accept a role for a Jewish state in the Middle East and has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel, killing hundreds.
Some more pragmatic Hamas figures would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem as a temporary measure.
Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Palestinian militants have fired thousands of rockets at Israel's south. Israel holds Hamas responsible and claims Hamas gets financial backing and weapons from Iran.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.