EU monitors to stay away from Rafah

Monitors will not return to crossing until Abbas's Force 17 takes control.

rafah crossing, jam pack (photo credit: AP [file])
rafah crossing, jam pack
(photo credit: AP [file])
European monitors will not return to the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Sinai while Hamas is in control there, but only if Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Force 17 "Presidential Guard" regains authority over the crossing, the deputy head of the monitoring force said on Wednesday. Patrick Delval, the deputy head of EU BAM-Rafah, said at a press briefing that the border crossing had been closed since June 9, four days before the Hamas-Fatah fighting intensified. He said the crossing, with an estimated €5 million worth of equipment, was now in Hamas's hands, but that he had not heard any reports of damage there. The EU's ambassador to Israel, Ramiro Cibrian, said that the legal basis for the deployment of the EU force to Rafah was the agreement on movement and access from November 2005, which clearly stipulated that the Presidential Guard would control the crossing. Now that Force 17 is no longer there, the terms of the agreement are not being met, making it impossible for the EU force to take up their positions. The 70-man force is in Ashkelon, waiting for further orders. Cibrian said the EU recognized the government of PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad as the legitimate government of the Palestinians. He said Hamas had to decide whether it wanted confrontation with Israel, or peaceful existence. Until it decided, he said, it would be impossible for the EU force to man any Gaza crossings. There was no talk in Brussels of having EU BAM man the Karni cargo crossing with Israel, Cibrian said. While Hamas's takeover of Gaza has made it impossible for EU BAM to do its work, in the West Bank the appointment of the new emergency government has given a new lease on life to EU COPPS, an EU coordinating office for Palestinian police support. When Hamas was in control of the government, EU COPPS was inactive, because as a result of the EU's policy of not dealing with Hamas, it could not deal with the police, which was under the authority of the Hamas-controlled PA Interior Ministry. Now, according to Lucien Vermeir, the deputy head of EU COPPS, the group will be able to engage with the new non-Hamas government and move various projects forward. Cibrian, meanwhile, said the EU did not favor reconstituting a Hamas-Fatah unity government, something that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov advocated during his visit here. Lavrov made this point during his meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday. Israel is adamantly opposed to another PA unity government. "The EU believes that Palestinian unity is a good idea," Cibrian said, "but not the reconstitution of the government. I don't think the EU sees the reestablishment of the government as practical."