EU monitors to arrive at Rafah

Official said a major issue is if EU or PA will provide security for the team.

rafah palestinians 298.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
rafah palestinians 298.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
Italian Gen. Pietro Pistolese, tabbed to head the EU monitoring team at the Rafah crossing, was expected to arrive in Israel on Monday to draw up an "operational plan" for his 50 to 70-strong monitoring team. An EU official said one of the main issues he would deal with was whether the EU would provide its own security for the team, or whether this would be done by the PA. The official said that in recent days a number of other European countries besides Italy, Britain and Germany have expressed an interest in sending personnel to take part in the mission. Israeli and PA officials held talks Sunday night to finalize preparations for the opening of the Rafah border crossing scheduled to take place at the end of the week. Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's political desk, and Brig.-Gen. Eitan Dangot met with PA official Muhammad Dahlan and US Ambassador Richard H. Jones. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the cabinet Sunday that he has directed the defense establishment to prepare for the temporary opening of the Rafah crossing, to be manned by Palestinian officials watched over by the EU monitors, on Friday. Mofaz said the agreement between Israel and the PA on the Rafah crossing, hammered out by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, struck a "good balance" between Israel's security needs and the policy of wanting to support and improve the economy in Gaza. EU foreign ministers, meeting Monday in Brussels, were expected formally to launch the bloc's first-ever police monitoring mission in the Middle East, deploying the observers to watch the border crossing. EU officials said a first contingent of 12 officers and experts could be deployed to the Palestinian Authority-controlled outpost by the end of this week to prepare for the official start of their mission on November 25, when the Rafah border crossing opens. Gilad is to pay a quick visit to Egypt on Wednesday to relay to them the finalized details of the Rafah crossing arrangement. Gilad has been one of the architects of the arrangement. Mofaz, in a security briefing he gave the cabinet, attributed the "relative quiet" of recent weeks to the IDF's policy of aggressively going after Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists. He said there were currently 10 warnings of terror attacks, and also partial information of another 50 attacks in various stages of preparation. Mofaz said that "for the first time" there were initial signs of "increased Palestinian security activity" and that the PA began implementing a program this week aimed at a putting an end "to the anarchy" in the territories. Nevertheless, Mofaz said, Israel still needed to operate both in the West Bank and Gaza to thwart attacks. Turning to the north, Mofaz said the international pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad was beneficial for Israel, and that keeping the pressure on the Syrian leader could lead him to conclude that he should drop his support for terrorism. Mofaz also warned that Hizbullah was interested in carrying out a high profile attack in the North, and that the defense establishment was prepared for any eventuality. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom also briefed the cabinet on his trip last week to Tunisia to take part in the World Conference on Information Technology. He said he was impressed, after meeting with the upper echelon of the Tunisian government, that the Tunisians had made a strategic decision to warmly greet him and the Israeli delegation. Shalom said he heard a clear message from the Tunisians that they were interested in playing a significant role in the region. He also said it was made clear to them that in order to do this they would have to step up their ties with Israel. Shalom also said the fact that Arab leaders were willing to meet with him openly at international conferences shows there has been a change in the atmosphere in the region, and that ties with Israel no longer needed to be secretive. He will travel to Spain next week for a meeting marking 10 years since the start of the Barcelona Process, where he also was expected to meet various Arab leaders. With new elections looming large, Sunday's cabinet meeting was held amid expectation that it would likely be the last meeting of this Labor-Likud unity government. Sharon, however, hinted at the possibility of setting up a new party with his Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres when he said to Peres, "I will not free you, unless elements here forbid it, from tasks you need to be involved in." Sharon said that he and Peres worked very well together and that the depth of their cooperation was "unprecedented." Margot Dudkevitch, Arieh O'Sullivan and AP contributed to this report.