EU official: Rafah won't be permanently opened any time soon

Crossing to reopen temporarily today for humanitarian reasons

Rafah guard 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Rafah guard 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian diplomat Nabil Amr said Monday that Egypt will open the Rafah border crossing for two days on Tuesday to allow hundreds of stranded on both sides to cross, but EU officials said this was only a temporary move, and did not represent the reopening of the crossing. Lt.-Gen. Pietro Pistolese, head of the EU Border Assistance Mission that monitored the Rafah crossing in 2005 and 2006, said that although the crossing is open from time to time for humanitarian reasons or to allow delegations to pass through, this did not constitute the legal opening of the crossing. While Israeli officials have said that under the cease-fire agreement Egypt hammered out for the Gaza Strip the Rafah crossing is not to be opened until significant progress is made for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, Pistolese said there was no link between the two issues. At the same time, however, he said it would "be difficult to open Rafah if they still maintain this soldier as a prisoner." Pistolese, in a briefing with reporters, said that several issues needed to be addressed before the crossing could be opened, and he does not see the crossing permanently re-opening "in a short time." Among the issues that needed to be addressed, he said, were whether to rebuild the Israeli-PA liaison office at Kerem Shalom, which has been damaged in rocket attacks and an explosion, and how to integrate Egypt into the agreement that governs the border crossing. Under the current agreement, Egypt is not a partner to the deal between Israel, the PA and the EU. Although the Egyptians are interested in setting up their own liaison office at Rafah, Pistolese said it would be preferable if everyone would sit in the same location. In addition, Pistolese said the Palestinians would have to work out an arrangement among themselves regarding who is in charge of the Rafah crossing, since the EU's agreement was with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, not Hamas. "Our agreement is with the president of the PA and not with another party," he said. Although Pistolese said that the EU monitors could return to Rafah immediately, it won't do so until the PA has full control over the area. Meanwhile, Amr said that decision to temporarily open the border Tuesday for "humanitarian" purposes follows talks on Sunday between Abbas and Egypt's chief of intelligence Omar Suleiman on the Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.