HAMAS WILL ACCEPT JOINT CONTROL OF THE RAFAH CROSSING – says Haniya

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Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya on Saturday said he would accept joint control of the Rafah crossing.

In a news conference, Haniya said his government would be ready to accept joint control of the Rafah crossing based on participation by the de facto government’s security, the Egyptians, the Europeans, and the Palestinian Authority’s presidential guards.

He said: ‘The issue of the Rafah crossing is always part of Palestinian dialogue, and it is also being discussed with our brothers in Egypt.

‘We still believe closure of the crossing point is a national and pan-Arabist wrongdoing because words can’t describe the suffering in the Gaza Strip.’

Also on Saturday, Haniya admitted that impediments still hinder the Cairo dialogue aimed at reaching an agreement between Hamas and Fatah.

However, he said he hopes an agreement will be reached on 7 July.

Haniya told journalists during a checkup visit at the Rafah crossing that ‘major issues will remain unresolved if a session is held on Sunday, and I hope an agreement will be signed on 7 July.’

He also described the situation in the West Bank as painful to ‘every free and decent person’, an apparent reference to the near-constant politically motivated arrests by the Palestinian Authority.

‘Detention and pursuits are still going on, and even the PLC speaker found the PLC headquarters closed indifferently,’ he said, explaining that such a situation impedes reaching an agreement.

Israeli authorities decided on Sunday to partially open the Kerem Shalom and Nahal Oz crossing points into the Gaza Strip, while the Karni crossing will remain closed, according to Raed Fattouh, a Palestinian border crossings official.

Fattouh said that 86 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid would pass through Kerem Shalom including five trucks loaded with equipment for water services in the Gaza Strip.

Furthermore, limited quantities of cooking gas and industrial diesel for Gaza’s only power plant be shipped through Nahal Oz, he said.

The Rafah border crossing opened on Saturday at 11am and began processing dozens of buses lined up to make the trip between Gaza and Egypt since early Saturday morning.

By noon two buses had passed to the Egyptian side, though there is expected to be significant backlog after the crossings took four hours to fully open.

Travellers will have Sunday and Monday to pass the border as well and thousands are expected to make the trip.

Crossings officials said Egypt notified authorities last week that the crossing would be open for students and patients to exit the Strip.

Chief of crossings Ghazi Hamad said the Gaza side had made all preparations to allow the largest number of citizens possible travel over to Egypt, and said he hoped the Egyptian side would be just as efficient.

He noted that the two sides coordinated so travel documents were standardised and travel into Egypt would be faster than before.

Hamad said priority would be given to 120 registered patients leaving in 50 ambulances to Egypt for medical treatment.

Head of Ambulance and Emergency Services Muawiyah Hassanein said the patients suffered from various cancers, blood diseases and other acute conditions.

They, and a small number of ill children, will all need complex surgeries that Gazan hospitals are ill-equipped to carry out.

The Gaza Interior Ministry said on Saturday that just five out of 17 buses had departed the Gaza Strip by nightfall.

In a statement, the ministry said that an additional seven buses had been allowed into Gaza from Egypt, noting that travelling will be allowed for ‘categories that were registered within the lists of the ministry’.

The ministry affirmed that the Rafah crossing would be open for three days, from Saturday until Monday, adding that ‘all procedures will be taken in cooperation with the crossings administration to facilitate residents’ travel.’

The statement expressed surprise at how slow the procedures were being carried out on the Egyptian side, preventing the expected number to leave and insisting that just one fourth of the total number of those intending to travel on Saturday had actually left.

Elsewhere, Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian homes in the Silwan neighbourhood of East Jerusalem on Saturday night, injuring three people with gunshots.

Extremist Jewish settlers stormed Silwan and as local residents tried to stop them, the settlers opened fire, injuring 35-year-old Jawad Siyam, a member of the local committee for defending Silwan neighbourhood, 31-year-old Fadi Qara’in, and a third citizen who remained unidentified.

Israeli police hurried to the scene, preventing ambulances from accessing the injured people to evacuate them to hospitals, witnesses said.

Palestinian lands abutting the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim were allegedly registered by the Israeli Land Registry Office and declared abandoned, the daily newspaper Al-Quds reported Saturday.

The report said the lands, 139,000 dunums in all, are these in the An Nabi Mousa near Jericho, as well as Beit Ta’mir, Rashayda and Al-Beida areas near Bethlehem.

They were labelled abandoned under the Israeli ‘ordinance of abandoned areas’ act.

The announcement in Al-Quds said any individual with an objection to the land registration must send an objection warrant to the Beil El District coordination office within 45 days.

• The World Bank will help forward a multi-billion dollar project linking the Dead and the Red seas, Israeli media reported on Saturday.

The Jerusalem post quotes Vice Premier Silvan Shalom as saying he was ‘assured’ by World Bank President Robert Zoellick in Washington on Friday that the international institution would support the programme.

A 2005-2007 15.5 million US dollar feasibility study for the project, which warned of drastic environmental changes, estimated building the 180 kilometre canal would cost at least $5 billion and take up to 20 years to complete.

The canal would see the receding waters of the Dead Sea replenished, and a hydro-electric plant installed on the downstream end; it would also further desalinisation efforts.

According to the Israeli papers, Shalom has been pushing forward the project in recent months, and met secretly with Jordanian officials ‘in order to finalise the project’.

‘This is a dramatic, important move that can lead to a breakthrough on the project,’ Shalom told the online Israeli news source Ynet. ‘This project has been delayed for years. We see it as a staple for financial peace.’

When the impact assessment report was released in 2007, environmentalists had harsh criticism and called the document superficial, and warned of dire consequences if a proper assessment were not undertaken.