Israel declares Gaza Strip an 'enemy entity'

Israel's security cabinet voted Wednesday to declare the Gaza Strip an enemy entity, a move that gives Israel the power to cut off all vital supplies to the region.

Israel's security cabinetvoted Wednesday to declare the Gaza Strip an "enemy entity," a move thatgives Israel the power tocut off all vital supplies to the region.

Shipments of electricity, fuel and goodswill be affected, although the cabinethas not decided whensuch sanctionswill be put in place.

A timeline will come after briefings with a legal team, according to a statement issued Wednesday from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"Additional restrictions will be imposed on the Hamas regime, limiting the transfer of goods to the Gaza Strip, cutting back fuel and electricity, and restricting the movement of people to and from the strip," the statement said.

The decisionto declare the Gaza Strip an enemy entity is final and needsno further approval from any Israeli authority.

The move comes as Israel is coping with almost daily rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip, striking southern Israel.

On Sept. 11, 69 Israeli soldiers were wounded after a rocket hit a military basenorth ofthe Gaza Strip.

Some Israeli ministershave saidthemeasures Israel has already taken to curb these attacks aren't working, and the move to declare the Gaza Strip an enemy entity is the only option.

Israel has responded to the rocket attacks so far with air strikes and attacks from the ground. The country has also shut the borders to the Gaza Strip, allowing only humanitarian aid to pass through.

Hamas 'hostile entity' to U.S., says Rice

The designation alsocame within hours ofa visit from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Israel.

Speaking at a news conference with her Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Rice said the United States will not turn its back on civilians in Gaza, and added that Hamas "is a hostile entity to the United States as well."

The designation drew animmediaterebuke from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who urged Israel on Wednesday to reconsider its decision. Ban said any cutoff of vital services would be "contrary to Israel's obligations towards the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law."

At the same time, Ban said, "The continued indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel is unacceptable and I deplore it."

"I understand Israel's security concerns over this matter," he said. "I call for it to stop immediately."

Not designed to cause humanitarian crisis

Most of Gaza's 1.4 million residents live in poverty and are almost entirely dependent on Israel for the supply of electricity, water and fuel. Sanctions could deepen their hardship and spark international condemnation.

Olmert's office, in its statement, said the cutoffs will be designed to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip,has condemnedthe move.

"It is a declaration of war and continues the criminal, terrorist Zionist actions against our people," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Another Hamas official,said Hamas leaders would meet to discuss the possibility of halting the rocket attacks.The officialspoke on condition of anonymity because a date for the meeting had not been set.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Baraktold the security cabinet thatthe objective of the enemy entity declaration is to weaken Hamas, according to one participant at the cabinet meeting, which was held in Jerusalem and drew top defence and political officials.

Barak also told the cabinet that Israel is moving closer to a large-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip, according to the participant.

With files from the Associated Press