Negotiators to try to iron out Rafah impasse; Mofaz to visit Egypt.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Israeli and Palestinian officials tried Friday to narrow differences over how to operate the Gaza-Egypt border, while Israel's defense minister was to head to Egypt later this month for talks on the issue.
Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat met in Tel Aviv on Friday to work on security and customs arrangements at the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border, Gaza's main gate to the world. Erekat said the differences were largely technical and could be overcome.
Israel left the border and closed Rafah as part of its Gaza pullout last month.
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In the first days after the pullout, the border was overrun by thousands of Palestinians and Egyptians, but Palestinian and Egyptian border guards have since restored control. The Palestinians have said they would only reopen Rafah for good after reaching agreement with Israel on security and customs arrangements.
The reopening of Rafah is crucial for the economy recovery of Gaza, an impoverished crowded coastal strip with some 1.3 million Palestinians.
However, Israel is concerned about an influx of weapons and militants into Gaza, and wants to be able to watch border traffic, at least long-distance via TV monitors. This concern was exacerbated following the recent upheaval in Gaza, in which Fatah groups abducted two foreign journalists, beat a university president, and exchanged gunfire among themselves.
The Palestinians insist on full control, and don't want an Israeli presence at Rafah.
Under an emerging deal, European inspectors would be deployed at Rafah, but Israel has not yet given its final approval. Goods would enter Gaza through a new terminal at the Gaza-Egypt-Israel meeting point, under direct Israeli inspection.
Erekat said several previous meetings have yielded progress and that he hoped the border could reopen in time for Id al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday indicating the end of the month-long Ramadan occurring at the beginning of November. He said Israel had made note of the Palestinian request, but not promised to aim for that target date.
Listing the points of dispute, Erekat said: "There is the issue of goods leaving Rafah from Gaza, the issue the security procedures on the passages, the role of the third party. All the issues are doable."
Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz plans to visit Egypt later this month, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the visit.
In the talks, the two sides will try to finalize the border arrangements and other issues still left open after the Gaza pullout, including the opening of Gaza's airport and construction of a seaport, a Palestinian official said.