Fatah, Hamas fight for border control

PA warns Egypt against striking deal with Islamic group over Rafah Crossing, official tells Post.

Fixing Rafah 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Fixing Rafah 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinian Authority has warned the Egyptians against striking a deal with Hamas over controlling the Rafah border crossing separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt, a senior PA official in Ramallah said Monday. The official told The Jerusalem Post that the warning, which came on the eve of the visit of a high-level Hamas delegation to Cairo for talks on the issue of the border, was delivered to the Egyptians by the PA leadership in the past 48 hours. PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who is scheduled to visit Cairo Wednesday, will reiterate his opposition to giving Hamas any role at the Rafah terminal, the official said. "Our position is very clear with regards to the border," the official added. "Hamas must not have any representation at the border. There is only one Palestinian Authority that is headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas can't be a legitimate party to any deal because it seized power [in the Gaza Strip] through a violent coup." Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is reported to have won the backing of Saudi Arabia for including Hamas in any deal on the border, sources close to Hamas said. Mashaal arrived in Riyadh Sunday, where he met with a number of senior government officials on the latest crisis. PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad said Monday that there was an "international and Arab consensus" that the PA should be in control of the border. He also warned Hamas against intervening in this issue, adding that the PA was the only party authorized to run the Rafah border crossing. Earlier this week, Fayad visited Cairo where he received assurances from the Egyptians that Hamas would not be given any role at the border. However, the PA is worried that the Egyptians would eventually succumb to pressure from Hamas and its supporters in Egypt and the Arab world to allow the Islamist movement to assume control over the border. A number of Hamas leaders are expected to arrive in Cairo later this week in a bid to persuade the Egyptians not to strike a separate deal with Abbas and his loyalists regarding the border crossing. On Monday Hamas reiterated its opposition to Abbas's demand to redeploy members of his Presidential Guard force at the border with Egypt. Abbas's men lost control over the terminal when Hamas defeated the PA security forces in the Gaza Strip last June. Egypt said Monday it was working toward reviving a 2005 agreement that regulated the administration of the border crossings in the Gaza Strip. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Cairo was working to control its border with the Gaza Strip gradually and restore the situation there to an acceptable condition. "Egypt is holding contacts with all parties concerned to activate a 2005 agreement that regulates the administration of the border crossings, including the Rafah checkpoint," Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement. He said Aboul Gheit had contacted a number of European foreign ministers, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, European Union (EU) External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana regarding the handling of the crossing point. The US-brokered agreement gave Abbas and his Fatah party control over the Rafah border crossing. But it also saw EU monitors stationed there. Aboul Gheit called on Israel to cooperate in running the border crossings and to facilitate the deployment of Abbas's loyalists there. However, Taher al-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, said his movement remained strongly opposed to the agreement. He also voiced strong opposition to the return of the EU monitors or any other third party to the Rafah border crossing. The spokesman accused Abbas of seeking to serve Israel's interests by agreeing to the deployment of EU monitors at the border crossing. "The border should be controlled only by Palestinians and Egyptians," he said. "We won't accept the presence of a third party there." Meanwhile, Egyptian security forces and Hamas gunmen in Rafah worked together Monday to string a barbed wire fence across one of the three breaches in the border in the latest effort to stem the flood of Palestinians across the frontier. Three trucks of Egyptian security forces pulled up to the Brazil Gate and strung wire across this entry point into Egypt. They were aided by half a dozen bearded and uniformed Hamas gunmen from the other side of the border. Hamas stopped civilian cars from entering into Egypt from the Gaza Strip at the main Salah Eddin crossing, permitting only trucks to go into Rafah and buy products. The Egyptians have also blocked food supplies to Al-Arish and other towns in Sinai in a bid to block the influx of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. Egyptian sources said thousands of Palestinians have been turned back after trying to travel to Cairo and other Egyptian cities. The Palestinians were stopped at checkpoints set up by Egyptian troops in different parts of Sinai, the sources said. In a related development, Arab foreign ministers said Monday that Israel was fully responsible for the deterioration in the Gaza Strip and demanded that Israel immediately lift its blockade, open crossing points and allow humanitarian supplies to reach the people. "Israel, as an occupation power, is fully responsible for the deterioration of the situation in the Palestinian territories and should immediately stop all its continued aggressions against the civilians and end the blockade and the collective punishment policy," said a statement issued by the ministers at the end of their meeting in Cairo early Monday. The foreign ministers also urged the UN Security Council to "shoulder its responsibility to stop [the Israeli] aggression and lift the siege off Gaza and protect its people and their right in accordance with the international laws." The ministers called on all parties to resume the work to open all the crossing points under internationally agreed arrangements to avoid a repeat of incidents on the Gaza-Egypt border. The ministers also welcomed the PA's readiness to take on the responsibility of all the crossing points in Gaza. AP contributed to this report.