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The security cabinet approved the placement of an EU contingent at the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on Tuesday, but the role envisioned for this force caught some EU officials by surprise.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with visiting Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini after the approval and said the force should have "real powers," not just supervisory ones.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom reiterated his words after his meeting with Fini. He made it clear that while no decision had yet been made on who would be searching luggage at the crossing, Israel wanted to see the EU force in a hands-on mode.
Fini said that while he personally would also like to see the EU contingent play an active role, this still needed to be agreed upon by the EU countries.
Although Sharon and Shalom indicated their desire to see the EU monitors take an active role in running the border crossing, one official close to the negotiations said their role would not be to inspect suitcases and identify people, but rather to monitor the performance of the Palestinians as they perform these tasks. The job of the monitors, he said, would be to provide technical assistance, and also point out to the Palestinians when they thought that some task was not being performed correctly.
According to diplomatic assessments in Jerusalem, France and Spain have been pushing for an EU role, while Britain was "less enthusiastic" and Germany was hoping some other solution could be found.
Shalom said an EU team was on its way to Israel to hold discussions with both sides.
He termed the security cabinet's decision "historic" and said it gave the EU - which has for years expressed an interest in taking a more active part in the diplomatic process - an unprecedented role. Shalom said the willingness to give the EU this role indicated a newfound trust and confidence in Europe.
Fini admitted during his press conference with Shalom that it would be difficult for the EU, after having asked for a more active role in the region for so long, to turn one down when offered.
Israel and Palestinian Authority negotiators met late Tuesday evening with a team representing Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn to hammer out the details of the agreement.
The security cabinet agreed on a framework whereby Palestinians would be able to cross from Gaza into Egypt, and vice versa, through the Rafah crossing, which would be manned by PA, Egyptian and EU officials. Goods, however, would go through a terminal to be built at Kerem Shalom.
According to Israel's position, the Rafah crossing would only be for Palestinians with valid identification and certain VIPs.
Surveillance equipment is to be installed at the crossing to provide Israeli officials with pictures of who is entering and information regarding their identity.
Nevertheless, a number of outstanding issues, in addition to the role the EU contingent will play, need to be worked out. They include when the crossing point would open, whether EU monitors would be stationed at the crossing point for goods at Kerem Shalom, whether goods going to Egypt should be allowed to use the Rafah crossing and what types of surveillance equipment would be used.
Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres was charged with responsibility for working out the role of the monitors with the EU.
Send us your comments >>
Ralph Haglund, Lund, Sweden
: Israel having nothing physically to do with the terrorists? Tell that to the market goers in Hadera
. Sharon knows what he is doing? Meaning he intentionally stranded almost 10,000 deported Jews from Gaza and still keep them in that situation. Agree that the Palestinians should get their electricity, water, jobs and money from their own work and meanwhile borrow from the surrounding Arab countries, while they cultivate their food in the greenhouses that rich American Jews bought for them in Gaza.
EU - start reading some stories how England
behaved in the Mandate
during the thirties and forties against the Jews.
Ronny Schnapp, Canberra, Australia
: Sharon knows what he's doing even if no one else does. Now that Israel will have nothing physically to do with the terrorists' lair that is Gaza, let's hope that the next stage of disengagement is a disengagement of the Palestinians' reliance on Israeli sources of electricity, water, jobs and money.
Val Phillips, USA
: Charles Applebaum seems to think Israel should just continue with the same old policies. Sharon was touted as the hardest of hardliners but he turned out to be a great visionary who is able to understand that changes are needed if Israel is to be secure. He understands that closing all the borders and killing Parisians terrorist and non-terrorist have not made Israel any safer and a new path must be found. That new path is the path of peace and not the same old path that Charles Applebaum and Benjamin Netanyahu
seem to favor.
Charles Applebaum, Parsippany, NJ, USA
: I don't understand what Sharon is doing. He seems to be giving in to everything anyone demands of Israel. The EU has always been hostile towards Israel, with anti-Semitism increasing daily in most European countries. Egypt, as I expected, merely stands by while Pals come and go as they please, assumingly bringing in all types of weapons and terrorists. Why does Israel continue to trust those openly hostile to its existence?