Egypt, PA urge Gaza border monitoring

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt and the Palestinian Authority are pushing Israel to agree to third party monitoring of border traffic as a way of reopening a legal crossing on the Gaza frontier, which thousands of people surged across illegally last week, officials said Monday.
The proposal, under which officials from a third country would monitor the Rafah crossing, is expected to be discussed with a senior Israeli defence ministry official who is due to come to Cairo in the near future.

Gen. Amos Gilad is expected to hold talks with Egypt’s chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, and Egyptian military commanders in charge of the border with Gaza and Israel.

After Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip on September 12, thousands of Palestinians swarmed across the border into Egypt on a daily basis last week, overwhelming attempts by Egyptian and Palestinian police to control them. Officials reported a sharp rise in the smuggling of weapons and drugs across the border.

On Sunday, Egypt completed its deployment of 750 heavily armed troops along the Gaza border, sealing the border and fulfilling part of an agreement with Israel on its withdrawal. On Monday, Egyptian police continued rounding up Palestinians who had illegally crossed and taking them to the border to return to Gaza.

There is currently no legal crossing on the border.

“We are trying put in place some workable solutions to this problem,” an Egyptian official said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the press. “Gazans cannot be kept for months in a prison.” However, Israeli officials have indicated that for the Rafah crossing to re-open, they want to see whether Gaza is under control in six months’ time.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has said Rafah could reopen after six months, and foreign inspectors could play a role.

“If we would want at a later time to permit the entry and exit from Rafah to Egypt, and smoothly, we would want a third party there. There is no doubt that the Europeans are very interested to be the third party,” Shalom said September 7, the day Israel closed the crossing.

When Israel closed the crossing, it said it would open another crossing at Kerem Shalom, where Gaza, Egypt and Israel meet. But the construction of this border post has not been finished.

Palestinians have blamed Israel for withdrawing before the policing of the border was agreed. Israel has accused the Palestinians and Egyptians of failing to maintain order on the border. And Israel has made it clear it does not trust the Palestinian Authority to control the border alone.

Egyptian officials said Egypt and the Palestinians are proposing that European monitors be stationed at a re-opened Rafah Crossing.

“They will be only monitors and have no right to decide who should enter or not,” an official said.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Monday the Gaza-Egypt border would re-open only as part of an international agreement, putting an end to speculation that the Palestinians might try to run the Rafah Crossing unilaterally.

“The (border) terminal will be open when there is an international agreement,” Abbas said.

Arab newspapers have suggested the Gaza border will be monitored by officials from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, whose Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is to come to Cairo later this year. However, a NATO spokesman said Monday he had heard of no such plans.

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