PNA CLOSES GAZA/EGYPT BORDER – Abbas wants international agreement

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Gate Gourmet sacked workers out on the picket line yesterday, angry at the proposed settlement and determined to reject it
Gate Gourmet sacked workers out on the picket line yesterday, angry at the proposed settlement and determined to reject it

THE Gaza Strip-Egypt border will reopen only as part of an international agreement, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has said, after Palestinian security forces sealed off the southern border on Sunday.

‘The terminal will be open when there is an international agreement,’ Abbas said.

Media reports claimed that Israel had agreed ‘in principle’ to a European Union role in policing the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

Palestinian security forces sealed off Gaza’s southern border early on Sunday, with the Palestinian commander for southern Gaza, Jamal Kaed, saying he expected the border to be reopened within 48 hours.

Kaed declined to elaborate on the reason for the closure.

Major-General Jibril al-Rujub, the PNA president’s national security adviser, announced Tuesday that the Rafah border crossing will be opened as an exception on Friday and Saturday (23-24 September).

In press statements, Al-Rujub explained that the crossing would be opened during the aforementioned days so as to allow students, Palestinian nationality holders, and patients to enter or depart, in accordance with an understanding reached between the Palestinian and Egyptian sides until the issue of the border crossing is resolved.

Separately, Al-Rujub commented on his meeting with an Egyptian security delegation at the Rafah border crossing on 20 September in a five-minute interview with Palestinian TV on Tuesday evening.

He said: ‘Naturally, we have two issues at hand: first, opening the border crossing permanently, and second, the current urgent issue of the huge number of Palestinians who came to the Gaza Strip to spend the summer vacation or celebrate the Israeli withdrawal.

‘This is in addition to the students, who will depart to Egypt next Friday and Saturday according to an agreement reached with the Egyptian brothers.’

He went on to say that ‘there will be no direct or indirect Israeli presence at the border crossing’.

He noted that the Palestinians do not oppose the presence of a third party at the border crossing based on a ‘specific mandate’.

When queried about recurring statements by Palestinian officials that the Rafah border crossing will be opened within 48 hours, Al-Rujub said: ‘I believe that we will be making a big political mistake if we endeavour to impose a status quo through opening the crossing single-handedly.’

He added: ‘We cannot open the crossing without coordination with the Egyptian brothers, who have obligations exactly as we have obligations towards the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

‘Based on this, opening the crossing will not officially take place without coordination.’

Al-Rujub said that a Palestinian-Egyptian ‘summit’ will be held on 28 September to tackle cooperation in all domains and the issue of the Rafah border crossing.

President Abbas said on Sunday the 10-mile border with Egypt was now under control after the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) sealed all gaps and 2,000 security personnel were deployed, effectively closing it.

On the Egyptian side of the border, hundreds of troops with automatic rifles and armoured vehicles took up positions.

Under an agreement with Israel, Egypt was deploying 750 border guards to prevent the ‘illegal’ crossing of goods and people.

‘We want to do the right job at the right time because we want to act as a state, as a responsible authority,’ Abbas said.

‘Therefore, we are following up on the subject seriously with our brothers in Egypt.

‘Until we reach agreement, we should be patient.’

President Abbas’s security adviser, Jebril Rajoub, said last week that the PNA and Egypt had set up a joint security committee on control of the border line.

Senior Israeli officials told the Reuters news agency that a deal in principle had been reached with the European Union (EU) for its personnel to work with Palestinian security forces and Egyptian police.

‘This would be an EU security role, to prevent terrorists or their weaponry entering Gaza as part of the EU’s role in the global war on terror,’ one Israeli official said.

Reuters described Israel as long being reluctant to allow outside involvement in its conflict with the Palestinians, perceiving Europe, and indeed the world except its strategic US ally, as pro-Palestinian.

Chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told Reuters the PNA had agreed in principle to an EU presence on the Gaza-Egypt border ‘but the modalities and the definition of their role will have to be discussed and agreed.’

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office (Britain currently holds the EU presidency) said it was up to the Palestinians, Israelis and Egyptians to reach agreement.

‘When they come up with some sort of plan, we are prepared to consider any proposal,’ the spokesman said.

The PNA and Egypt were pushing Israel to agree to third party monitoring of border traffic as a way of re-opening a legal crossing on the Gaza frontier.

Senior Israeli Defence Ministry official, General Amos Gilad, is expected to hold talks with Egypt’s chief of intelligence, Omar Sulaiman, and Egyptian military commanders in charge of the border with Gaza and Israel.

The Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has ordered a ‘security zone’ to run 150 metres deep into the Palestinian side of the northern Gaza Strip, to create a no-man’s land in which any Palestinian who entered could face death at the hands of Israeli snipers.

Saeb Erekat said the establishment of the ‘security zone’ would mean the continuation of the Israeli occupation of Gaza.

‘This shows that Israel is still an occupying power in Gaza and still motivated by the occupation mentality,’ Erekat warned.

The armed wing of Hamas, Izz el-Din al-Qassam brigades, said in a statement that its members would resume attacks on Israeli targets, if Israel insisted on setting up the ‘security zone’ in the Palestinian territory.

‘The Zionist enemy’s step will compel us to continue our resistance and attacks on its soldiers by all means,’ the statement said.

‘We will turn the area into another Shaba Farms and our snipers will target the Zionist soldiers there,’ the brigades said.

Thousands of armed Palestinian fighters supporting Hamas paraded with weapons through the streets of Gaza City on Sunday in their largest show of force in years.

Similarly Islamic Jihad leader, Khaled al-Batsh, said his group rejected the ‘security zone’ and threatened to resume attacks on Israel.

‘Creating a security zone north of the Gaza Strip means Israeli control over the area,’ he said, echoing previous warnings from many quarters that Israel could try and turn Gaza, the world’s most densely populated piece of land, into the ‘world’s largest prison’.

‘We call on the international community to reject this project,’ Al-Batsh said.

On Sunday night, for the first time since the Israeli pullout from Gaza, Israeli and Palestinian security officials met at the new Israeli district coordinating office at Beit Hanoun (Erez).

They discussed ‘future coordination on civilian and security issues’.