Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Monday dismissed threats by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to hinder the movement of Hamas officials during voting in next January's parliamentary elections as a "flagrant intervention" in the internal affairs of the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Hamas denied reports in the Arab media according to which its leaders were planning to move from Syria to Jordan. According to the reports, Jordan had turned down a request from Hamas to allow some of its leaders who were expelled from the kingdom in 1999 to return and open a "press office" in Amman.
"These reports are completely untrue and are designed to harm Hamas," a senior Hamas official in Gaza City told The Jerusalem Post.
Sharon told a Knesset committee that Israel was opposed to the participation of Hamas unless the movement disarmed. "We will do whatever is possible to impose difficulties on the movement of Hamas members [in the West Bank] on elections day," he was quoted as saying.
A spokesman for Abbas said Sharon's statements had "grave political consequences" and were an indication of his intention to separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip.
"This is an attempt on the part of Sharon to impose his will on Palestinian voters," the spokesman charged. "It also constitutes a real threat to the unity of the Palestinian Authority and its institutions. This is an unacceptable flagrant intervention in our internal affairs."
PA Civil Affairs Minister Muhammed Dahlan said on Monday that the Palestinians were opposed to any form of Israeli presence at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. "Israel wanted to have some kind of role at the terminal, whether visible or invisible, but we have totally rejected this," he said after touring the border crossing.
It was Dahlan's first public appearance since he returned to the Gaza Strip after spending more than a month in Yugoslavia, where he received medical treatment for back problems.
Dahlan claimed that Israel had begun softening its position in recent weeks and was now prepared to accept the presence of European monitors at the gateway. "Israel will not be able to prevent anyone from traveling through the Rafah border crossing and there will be no black lists," he added, expressing hope that the terminal would be reopened in the coming days. "Every Palestinian living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be able to travel to Egypt and back unconditionally."
Dahlan was accompanied on his tour by Marc Otte, the European Union's Middle East envoy, who told reporters: "We are not here to control anybody. We are here to help and assist." He said he was impressed by the steps taken by the Palestinians, and expressed hope that there would soon be a final agreement with Israel on how the border would be managed.
Earlier, the EU agreed to monitor the Rafah border crossing.
EU foreign ministers agreed at a meeting in Brussels to "assume the third-party responsibility" for monitoring the border crossing, said Javier Solana, the EU's security affairs chief.
The EU also decided to dispatch a civilian police mission to the Palestinian territories to train the PA security forces. "This mission will support the Palestinian Authority in establishing sustainable and effective policing arrangements," said a statement issued by the meeting.