EU monitors weigh Rafah return

Rice: PA should have role in policing crossing; Israel won't block Abbas-Mubarak border agreement.

egypt gaza 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
egypt gaza 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
In the wake of the chaos on the Gaza-Sinai border, the EU foreign ministers said Monday that the EU would "consider resuming its monitoring mission at Rafah." Under a US-brokered agreement on access and movement hammered out in November 2005, the EU monitored the Rafah Crossing, along with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, until the team was withdrawn after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2006. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday night the Palestinian Authority should have a role in policing the border. During a press conference with visiting Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Rice said Washington wants to see order restored along the Egyptian border with Gaza. The EU foreign ministers, following a meeting in Brussels, called "on all parties to work urgently for the controlled reopening of the crossings in and out of Gaza for both humanitarian reasons and commercial flows." The foreign ministers also backed a proposal for the PA to take control of the crossings that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is set to discuss with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Wednesday. Although Israel has not yet formulated an official stance on whether it backs PA control of the crossings, Israeli officials said that if Abbas and Mubarak were to come to an agreement on this, Israel would not "be an obstacle." Even before the border breach last week, the US expressed support for PA control of the crossings, saying that this was one way for Abbas to regain a foothold in the Gaza Strip. Israel was opposed at the time, saying that the PA would not be able to control the border - an argument that seems to pale now that the border has been completely breached. The statement said the EU foreign ministers were "deeply concerned about recent events in Gaza and the grave disturbances at the border between Gaza and Egypt." They expressed "sympathy for the civilian populations affected by the violence in Gaza and in southern Israel [and condemn] the continued firing of rockets into Israeli territory and all other activities that are contrary to international law and endanger civilians." The statement, "while recognizing Israel's legitimate right to self-defense," called for "an immediate end to all acts of violence." The foreign ministers' statement reiterated their "grave concern at the humanitarian situation in Gaza and calls for the continuous provision of essential goods and services, including fuel and power supplies." They also called on "Israel to fulfill its obligations to Gaza." Regarding kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit, the statement said that the "EU reiterates its call for the immediate release of the Israeli soldier abducted 19 months ago and commends efforts, including by partners in the region, to that effect." By far, the harshest words of the statement were reserved for settlement construction. "The EU considers that settlement building anywhere in the occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal under international law," the statement read. "This includes Israeli settlements in both east Jerusalem and the West Bank. Settlement construction is an obstacle to peace. The EU is therefore deeply concerned by recent settlement activity, particularly the recent tenders issued for new construction in Har Homa. The road map is clear that Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the natural growth of existing settlements, and dismantle all outposts erected since March 2001." While quoting directly from the road map in regards to Israeli obligations regarding the settlements, the EU statement did not make a similarly explicit reference to Palestinian obligations under the road map, such as the segment of the road map that reads as follows: "Palestinians [must] declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducing and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere."