Abbas: PA won't control Rafah crossing for now

PA president says reconciliation with Hamas must precede reassuming management of crossing.

abbas mubarak 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
abbas mubarak 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority forces are prepared to reassume control over the Rafah border crossing, but only after the PA reconciles with Hamas, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday. Egypt was trying over the weekend to persuade Hamas leaders to agree to the deployment of international troops in the Gaza Strip and accept the latest United Nations Security Council calling for an immediate and durable cease-fire with Israel. The Egyptians were also trying to convince Hamas to allow Abbas's security forces to return to the Rafah terminal in line with the 2005 US-brokered agreement that placed all the border crossings in the Gaza Strip under his control. Abbas, who was speaking to reporters in Cairo after holding talks with President Hosni Mubarak, said he did not rule out the possibility that Hamas would be permitted in the future to participate in managing the terminal. "Hamas is part of the Palestinian people and part of the Palestinian Authority," he said. "They are not independent from the people." Abbas added that he and Mubarak were opposed to the deployment of international troops along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. "We don't want these forces to be on the Egyptian side," he said. "We want them to be stationed inside the Palestinian territories to protect our people." He said that the Palestinians have been demanding the presence of international troops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for nearly 30 years. "We want international protection for the Palestinian people," he said. "These forces should be stationed inside the Palestinian territories and not along the border." Abbas said the PA was responsible for the Rafah border crossing and would return to the area only in the context of an agreement with Hamas. Abbas's remarks came in response to allegations by Hamas that he was planning to exploit the IDF military operation in the Gaza Strip to regain control over the Rafah border crossing. He urged Hamas to accept an Egyptian proposal for an immediate cease-fire with Israel and said he was prepared to resume "national reconciliation" talks with the Islamist movement. "We hope that an agreement would be reached without delay," Abbas said, noting that a Hamas delegation was in Cairo for talks about a cease-fire. "There's no room for hesitation and we don't have much time. We must start implementing the Egyptian initiative and the Security Council resolution," he said. He said that there were indications that Hamas had softened its position and was no longer totally opposed to the cease-fire proposals. Abbas warned that any party that does not comply with the cease-fire appeals would be held responsible for the ongoing bloodshed in the Gaza Strip. "The number of casualties is rapidly increasing," he said. "Most of the victims are children and innocent civilians." The Hamas delegation that was summoned to Cairo on Friday is made up of Ayman Taha, Salah Bardaweel and Jamal Abu Hashem. It is the second delegation of its kind to visit Cairo in the past few days. Sources close to Hamas said the Egyptians were exerting heavy pressure on the movement to accept the cease-fire proposals and to allow Abbas's forces to return to the Rafah border crossing. The Egyptians, according to the sources, are also trying to persuade Hamas to agree to the deployment of an international force in the Gaza Strip - an idea that has been repeatedly dismissed by Hamas in the past. The Egyptians told the Hamas representatives that they would never reopen the Rafah terminal unless it was handed over to Abbas loyalists, the sources said. A Hamas official in the Gaza Strip reiterated Saturday his movement's strong opposition to the presence of international troops in the Gaza Strip. He said such troops would be considered a hostile force and would therefore be targeted by armed Palestinian factions. He also said that the idea of the international troops was aimed at securing the return of Fatah to the Gaza Strip. Rafik Husseini, director of Abbas's Ramallah-based bureau, said that Hamas was apparently prepared to accept the Security Council resolution regarding a cease-fire with Israel. "We heard that they have changed their position," he said. "This is a good step because it won't give Israel an excuse to continue killing more innocent civilians." Husseini said that the PA, together with a number of Arab countries, was planning to sue Israel at the International Criminal Court for allegedly perpetrating "war crimes" against the Palestinians. He said that Abbas was planning to stay in power, even though his term in office expired on Friday. "President Abbas will remain in power until presidential and parliamentary elections are held simultaneously," he said. "If anyone has objections to that, he can appeal to the Palestinian Supreme Court." Husseini said that in any case this was not the right time to talk about the expiration of Abbas's term because of the fighting in the Gaza Strip. Hamas and other Palestinian factions said over the weekend that as far as they were concerned, Abbas was no longer the legitimate president of the PA since his four-year term in office had expired.