EU agrees to monitor Gaza-Egypt crossing
Updated: 2005-11-08 09:32
The European Union agreed Monday to monitor a Gaza-Egypt border crossing that
serves as the main gate to the world for Palestinians in the coastal strip.
The deployment of foreign inspectors at the Rafah terminal is a key element
of an emerging Israeli-Palestinian deal on new border arrangements following
Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip in September.
EU foreign ministers agreed at a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to "assume the
third party responsibility" for monitoring the border crossing, Javier Solana,
the EU's security affairs chief, told reporters as a delegation from the bloc
toured the border area.
Israel closed Rafah just before the withdrawal, and the terminal has opened
only sporadically since then to allow passage of hardship cases.
Solana did not give details of the conditions under which the EU monitors
would supervise border traffic, saying Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were
discussing the matter Monday. The Palestinians hope to reach agreement by Nov.
The Palestinians want the Europeans to serve as advisers, while Israel wants
the foreigners to be in charge, with the authority to carry out arrests or
confiscate luggage, if necessary. Israel is concerned about an influx of weapons
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Mohammed Dahlan accused Israel of trying to
maintain a presence in Gaza despite its withdrawal.
"We don't want any (Israeli) foothold here," Dahlan said. "What we want is
freedom of movement for passengers in and out of Gaza, and freedom of movement
for goods out of Gaza to Egypt."
Touring the border, Marc Otte, the EU's Mideast envoy, said: "We are not here
to control anybody. We are here to help and assist."
Reopening Rafah under Palestinian control is a crucial sovereignty issue for
Gazans as they assert authority over their borders for the first time.
Israeli-Palestinian agreements on the crossings are also necessary to rebuild
The deployment of foreign inspectors in Rafah would set an important
precedent that could be copied at a future airport and seaport in Gaza. Israel
wants the Europeans there to ensure that militants and weapons do not cross into
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Mohammed Dahlan,
right, speaks with Mark Otte, center, the European Union envoy to the
Middle East and another EU official during a tour of the Rafah border
crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, Monday, Nov. 7, 2005. A European
Union delegation toured the Gaza-Egypt border Monday as part of
negotiations with Israel and the Palestinians on the role of European
inspectors at the Rafah terminal. [AP]
European officials met separately Sunday with Israeli and Palestinian
officials. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Europeans told him the
inspectors were ready to fulfill whatever role agreed to by the Israelis and
Later Monday, international envoy James Wolfensohn was to chair a three-way
meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials to try to resolve the remaining
disputes over Rafah. During his week-long stay, Wolfensohn also hopes to make
progress on other issues, including improvements at crossings from Gaza into
A key issue at Monday's meeting will be Israel's demand to monitor Rafah
long-distance, via computer hookup and closed-circuit TV, Erekat said. The
Palestinians reject the demand, saying the presence of European inspectors
should be sufficient.
Erekat said he hoped an agreement on Rafah could be reached by the end of the
Sharon told parliament's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee that it was
important for Israel to monitor who is passing through Rafah, said Ran Cohen, a
lawmaker from the opposition Yahad Party. Sharon told lawmakers that Israel must
retain the right to keep monitoring, and that Israel was preparing alternate
crossings under Israeli control if an agreement on Rafah could not be reached,
Palestinian workers at Rafah set up checkpoints Monday and hooked up security
cameras to monitor the approaches to the terminal. Dozens of Palestinian
policemen took up positions along the perimeter wall and at the crossing's main
Also Monday, EU foreign ministers agreed to train Palestinian police forces
for three years, beginning Jan. 1. The mission is to be the 25-nation bloc's
first security role in the region as part of international peace efforts.
The ministers also also expressed concern about continued violence in Gaza
and the West Bank, calling on the Palestinian Authority "to take full control of
law and order in the occupied territories" and urging Israel to stop its
settlement program in East Jerusalem and "to cease all discriminatory treatment
of Palestinians." ... especially concerning work permits, access to education
and health services."
Sharon, meanwhile, told lawmakers Monday that if Hamas militants participate
in Palestinian legislative elections, Israel would not coordinate with the
Palestinians on the vote, and would make it difficult for Hamas to campaign,
said the prime minister's spokesman Asaf Shariv.
The Palestinians say Israeli roadblocks throughout the West Bank must be
lifted ahead of the Jan. 25 election to let candidates campaign freely and
permit voters to travel to rallies and the polls.
Israel has demanded for months that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas disarm
Hamas if it is to take part in the election.
Abbas has repeatedly refused, saying such a confrontation would provoke civil
war. Instead, he has brokered a shaky truce with militants not to attack Israel
and has worked to bring them into Palestinian political life by having them
field candidates in the parliamentary election.