Diplomats deny EU talk of leaving Rafah

British Arab newspaper claims London is pressuring EU to leave crossing.

rafah 298  (photo credit: Associated Press)
rafah 298
(photo credit: Associated Press)
European diplomatic officials on Monday categorically denied a report in the London-based al-Hayat newspaper claiming that London is pressuring the European Union to remove its monitors from the Rafah border crossing. "There is no truth in the report," said British embassy spokeswoman Karen Kaufman. Julio de la Guardia Rivera, the spokesman for the 65-strong EU border Assistance Mission Rafah (EU BAM), said the report "has nothing to do with anything on the ground." The al-Hayat report comes as Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas government are sparring over who will have control of the border crossings. Rivera said, "As far as we are concerned everything [at the crossing] should remain in the hands of the presidency [Abbas]." Abbas took control of the crossing, to the relief of the EU monitors at the site, last Tuesday. But on Sunday, after the issue increased tension between Abbas and the Hamas government of Ismail Haniyeh, Abbas sent a letter offering to hand control of the border to the new government. Reuters quoted an aide to Abbas saying, "The Hamas government will be held responsible if the crossing is blocked by Israel or if the European monitors take a decision to withdraw." Rivera said that the new security detail at the site numbered about 150 members of Abbas's Presidential Guard and that the EU was "happy" to see this security detail in charge. If the border crossing does not fall under Abbas's authority and remains under the purview of the PA Interior Ministry, it could present difficulty for the EU, which has decided to cut off aid to the Hamas-led government and to reduce all but low-level "functional" contact. Rivera said there is now no contact between the monitors and the Hamas-led ministries and this would remain the case, "for the time being" and "until Brussels decides otherwise." Rivera said that from both a quantitative and qualitative point of view the situation under the Presidential Guards was preferable to the previous situation. Quantitatively, he said, there were now more guards at the crossing than before, and qualitatively he said they were better equipped and trained. The EU monitors began their work as a "third party presence" at the Rafah crossing into Egypt on November 26, as a result of the Agreement on Movement and Access reached between Israel and the PA two weeks earlier. A senior European diplomat said earlier this month that while the monitors were able to stand guard against the smuggling of weapons through the border crossing, it was more difficult to stop terrorists from entering into Gaza because the mandate the monitors have is to simply check that the documentation of those entering into Gaza is correct and in proper order. Only those with Palestinian identification are allowed through the crossing at this time. "The third party doesn't have lists of wanted people, so as long as you don't know who is a potential bad guy, as long as Israel and the PA don't share the same list, what can you do?" he asked. The official said that there are other ways of smuggling weapons into Gaza, via the Negev and various tunnels under the Gaza-Egyptian border, but that the weapons are not being smuggled through the crossing.