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(photo credit: AP)
The EU is scaling back its monitoring mission at the Gaza-Egypt border, which has been closed since the start of bloody factional fighting that led to Hamas's takeover of the coastal strip, a spokeswoman said Saturday.
The cutback in personnel signals that the European monitors don't expect the Rafah terminal on the border, Gaza's only gateway to the world, to reopen anytime soon.
The monitors were deployed under a November 2005 agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, following Israel's pullout from Gaza. Under the deal, the border was controlled by Palestinian and Egyptian security forces, with European monitors deployed on the Palestinian side to prevent smuggling of weapons and terrorists.
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The border has been closed since June 9, when the final phase of fighting between Hamas and forces allied with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas erupted in Gaza. Hamas defeated Abbas's forces, who had held carried out key missions, including border controls. Instead of Abbas's Presidential Guards, Hamas gunmen now control the Rafah terminal.
In the current situation, it's pointless to keep all 87 members of the EU mission in the area, said mission spokeswoman Maria Telleria. She would not say how many members of the mission are leaving in coming weeks, but added that enough will stay behind to operate the border should it open at short notice. She said between 15 and 18 monitors are needed for a shift at the Rafah terminal.
"I can't foresee in the near future that the border will be opened on permanent basis," she said.
The spokeswoman said the mission's managers and equipment would stay.
Following the June 9 closure of the border, some 6,000 Palestinians trying to return to Gaza have been stranded in Egypt.