Mofaz sets target for reopening Rafah

Security officials: Defense minister hopes to reopen gateway within 2 weeks.

rafah crossing 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
rafah crossing 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz hopes to reopen the Gaza Strip's main gateway to the outside world within two weeks, security officials said Sunday. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss policy, said Israeli and Palestinian teams have stepped up contacts in an effort to sew up the last details of a border-monitoring agreement. Reopening of the border would require Israeli cabinet approval. Israel closed the crossing shortly before it withdrew from Gaza in September, saying it would stay shut for six months to allow for new security and customs arrangements. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas agreed to reopen it only with Israeli consent. On Sunday, the crossing was opened temporarily on the occasion of Id al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. Meanwhile, Vice Premier Shimon Peres began negotiations Sunday with European Union officials regarding the logistics of an EU team that is to be stationed at Rafah. Israel agreed last week to an EU presence there, but there are wide gaps between the two sides regarding what the team's responsibilities at the crossing would be. While one official close to the negotiations said the EU team would not actually screen Palestinians at the crossing, but monitor PA officials as they carry out this function, both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom indicated that they envision the EU officials having a hands-on role at the site. Peres' office issued a statement saying the negotiations would deal with the composition, size and status of the third-party team at Rafah. The statement said that the team "will monitor operations pertaining to security and customs issues (such as preventing the entry of terrorists and weapons, as well as smuggling) and will have the authority to ensure compliance with the pertinent rules and terms of the agreement on the Rafah crossing point." The issue of the Rafah crossing came up Thursday during Mofaz's meeting in Washington with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The US has been urging Israel for weeks to find a solution to the Rafah crossing issue, as well as to come to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority regarding a link for Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank to improve Palestinian living conditions.