RAMALLAH, West Bank – Egypt has agreed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s plan to assume control of Gaza’s sole crossing with Egypt, excluding Hamas Islamists who rule the territory, Palestinian officials said on Sunday.
Abbas has been seeking Egyptian and Israeli support for taking over Gaza’s border crossings, including the one at Rafah with Egypt that Hamas blasted open on Wednesday.
Hundreds of thousands of Gazans have since poured across the border into Egypt to stock up on goods in short supply because of an Israeli-led blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory.
On the sidelines of talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told Reuters that Egypt agreed to returning to a 2005 border agreement which gave Abbas control over the Rafah crossing.
Under the agreement, Malki said, Abbas’s presidential guard would provide security at the crossing. The presidential guard had been stationed there until June, when Hamas routed forces loyal to Abbas’s secular Fatah faction and seized control of the impoverished territory of 1.5 million people.
“Hamas will be told this is the position, and if they don’t accept it, they will be held responsible for the protracted closure of the border crossings,” Malki said.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment on Malki’s comments.
Hamas rejected returning control of the Rafah crossing to Abbas under the 2005 agreement.
That agreement also placed European monitors at the border and gave Israel the power to close the crossing and observe travelers by television relay.
“We have our own vision of how the crossing will be run and we will present our vision to our Egyptian brothers,” Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas will hold crisis talks in Jerusalem later on Sunday on how to limit Hamas control over Gaza’s breached border with Egypt.
Israel has sought to put the onus on Cairo to take control of its border with Gaza.
Israel, which occupied the impoverished territory in 1967, pulled troops and settlers out in 2005 but still controls its northern and eastern borders, airspace and coastal waters, and has imposed a blockade it says is meant to counter militant rocket fire.
“We want to end this crisis through the takeover of control of the border crossing by the legitimate Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas,” a senior Egyptian diplomat said.