Cairo invites Hamas for talks

Hamas, Egypt to talk about Rafah; Egyptians allow PA's Force 17 to assume border control.

abbas mubarak 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
abbas mubarak 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Egypt has invited Hamas representatives to Cairo for talks on ways of controlling the border between the Gaza Strip and Sinai. Hamas officials said the visit would take place later this week. They expressed satisfaction that the Egyptians were coordinating their moves with Hamas. The invitation came shortly after Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad held talks in Cairo on the latest developments along the border. During the visit, Fayad appealed to the Egyptians to allow the PA's Force 17 Presidential Guard to assume control over the Rafah crossing. Fayad is reported to have stressed the PA's opposition to the presence of Hamas security personnel at the border. PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said the Egyptians agreed to allow the Presidential Guard to return to the Rafah terminal in accordance with an agreement reached between the two parties in 2005. PA President Mahmoud Abbas's forces left the border crossing after Hamas took full control over the Gaza Strip in June. Abbas has also been invited to Cairo later this week for talks with President Hosni Mubarak on the latest border crisis. Speaking to reporters in Cairo, Malki said: "Hamas will be told about this agreement and they will have to accept the presence of the Presidential Guard at the border. This is the Egyptian position as delivered to us by Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and General Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman." The PA minister said the agreement would be discussed by the Arab League foreign ministers during their upcoming meeting in Cairo and warned Hamas against rejecting it. "If Hamas rejects the agreement, they will be held responsible for the continued closure of the border [with Egypt]," he said. Earlier this week, Abbas presented the Arab League ministers with a security plan for control of the border. The plan calls for deploying members of Abbas's Presidential Guard at the Rafah border crossing and completely ignores Hamas's demand for joint control. Hamas reiterated Sunday its opposition to Abbas's plan, saying it would not recognize the agreement that was signed between the PA and Egypt after Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005. "We want new arrangements at the border," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "The agreement that was reached in 2005 does not exist any longer." He added that the main reason for Hamas's opposition to the 2005 agreement was because it allowed international observers to be stationed at the border crossing. "The Rafah border should be controlled only by Palestinians and Egyptians," he said. Meanwhile, Egyptian security forces sealed off roads to el-Arish in the northern Sinai, stopping hundreds of Palestinians from entering the town. They also ordered shops and gas stations to close down as part of an effort to block the influx of Gazans. Nevertheless, Palestinians continued to flock into other parts of Egypt for a fifth consecutive day on Sunday. About a dozen Hamas-affiliated troops fanned out on both sides of the Rafah crossing Sunday in their first significant deployment there during the five-day ordeal. They appeared to be coordinating security efforts with their Egyptian counterparts, jointly directing traffic and manning checkpoints alongside one another. Egyptian forces have been deployed in the hundreds here for several days, and some guards have also crossed briefly into Gaza. On Sunday, both forces encouraged Gaza motorists to return to the Palestinian territory. But the cooperation appeared only to be between low-level security guards on the ground, and not indicative of any change in policy by Hamas or the Egyptian government. Before the border breach, Hamas had no role in patrolling Gaza's borders. Some Palestinians could be seen returning to Gaza on Sunday, though streets on the Egyptian side of Rafah were still jammed with people bargaining for gasoline, water bottles, car batteries, carpets and other supplies. A rare rainstorm turned the area's dusty thoroughfares into sludge, making window-shopping a messy affair and prompting some customers to return home early. Some stores in Rafah were closed Sunday, either because of the bad weather or because supplies had run low. Some speculated that Egyptian officials had encouraged shopkeepers to close in hopes that Palestinian customers would return home. AP contributed to this report