Israel imposes sanctions against Palestinians
Israel imposed economic sanctions against the Palestinians in retaliation for their leadership signing international conventions, moves that further complicate US efforts to keep peace talks from collapsing before an April 29 deadline.
An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Jewish state would deduct debt payments from tax transfers which the Palestinian Authority routinely receives, and limit the self-rule government's bank deposits in Israel.
On Wednesday, Israel said it was limiting its contacts with Palestinian officials, citing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's signing of UN human rights conventions last week.
Israel viewed that move as an attempt by the Palestinians to assume the trappings of statehood outside the framework of the US-backed negotiatons.
Abbas, for his part, has accused Israel of violating a commitment to release two dozen prisoners at the end of March, the last group of about 100 Israel pledged to free, including Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis, when the negotiations resumed in July.
The official said Israel had "decided this evening to deduct debts of the Palestinian Authority to Israel from tax revenue transfers," but would not say what amounts were involved.
The revenues which Israel collects on goods bound for the Palestinian market amount to about $100 million a month and accounts for about two thirds of the Palestinian budget.
Based on Israeli media reports, Palestinian debts to Israel for such services as electricity total at least a month's worth of revenue.
Israel also said it would suspend its participation in a gas exploration project off the coast of the Gaza Strip.
Senior Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo denounced the measures.
"These sanctions will not scare us and they're evidence to the world that Israel is a racist occupation state that has resorted to the weapon of collective punishment in addition to other practices including settlements and their expansion and the denial of our most basic rights as a people," he said.
Even before the latest flurry of tit-for-tat measures, the talks, aimed at creating a Palestinian state and ending a decades-long conflict, had stalled over the issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Palestinian's refusal to formally recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
In Washington, the US State Department said the two sides were making progress but dismissed suggestions an agreement to extend the talks had been struck.
"The gaps are narrowing but any speculations about an agreement are premature at this time," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular briefing.