PM, Abbas: Sealing Rafah a priority

PM: Israel's security interests cannot be neglected; Abbas promises to push Mubarak on Wednesday.

Abbas olmert walk 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
Abbas olmert walk 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in Jerusalem midday Sunday for the first high-level Israeli-Palestinian talks since the start of the current crisis in the Gaza Strip. The two focused on the chaotic situation on the Egyptian border, which, according to one Israeli diplomatic official, has introduced a whole new dimension into the conflict. "We cannot allow a situation where our security interests are neglected," Olmert said during the meeting. The two concluded that Israel and the PA will pressure Egypt to re close the border as soon as possible, and Abbas promised to raise the issue with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when he meets him this coming Wednesday, Army Radio reported. Olmert also reiterated to Abbas his promise that Israel would not allow a humanitarian crisis to evolve in the Gaza Strip. Israel has yet to formulate a policy, following the erasure of the border between Sinai and the Gaza Strip, on whether Jerusalem should now promote complete disengagement from Gaza and a strategy that would transfer to Egypt the responsibility of providing fuel, food, medicine and humanitarian aid to the Gazans. The government also has yet to formulate a policy on whether the recent events and the uncontrolled passage of people and goods from Egypt to Gaza means the end of the Oslo-based Protocol on Economic Relations signed in Paris in 1994. That agreement governed economic relations between Israel and the PA and created a joint Israel-West Bank-Gaza Strip customs envelope. Olmert and Abbas last met on January 8, a day before US President George W. Bush's visit, and reached an agreement at the time on the framework of negotiations on the core issues - Jerusalem settlements and refugees. The Israeli team in these negotiations is headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the Palestinian team by Ahmed Qurei. They have met once - on January 14 - since the core-issue negotiations were announced, and a meeting that was expected to take place last week was not held because of the situation in Gaza. No date has been set yet for their next meeting.