PA officials: We'll assume control of Rafah

Palestinian and Egyptian officials say Cairo agrees to Abbas's plan; 20 armed Gazans caught in Sinai.

donkey Rafah 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
donkey Rafah 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Egypt has agreed to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's plan whereby PA security forces would assume responsibility for the Gaza-Egypt border crossing, Reuters quoted Palestinian and Egyptian officials as saying Sunday. The reported deal would denote that Egypt has rejected Hamas's proposal to control the crossing. PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki was quoted as saying that "it has been agreed with Egypt that the border crisis will be solved through the agreement signed in 2005, whereby PA security forces will control the Rafah border crossing." Nevertheless, Israel denied that any such deal had been reached. Following a meeting with PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, Aboul Gheit merely said that "Egypt will take necessary actions and measures to control the border in Gaza soon," without elaborating. Overnight Saturday, Egyptian security forces caught 20 Palestinians in Sinai in possession of explosives and electronic devices which would have enabled them to listen in to the Egyptian forces' communications networks. The discovery came the night after Egypt's attempts to reseal its border with the Gaza Strip failed, as tens of thousands of Palestinians continued to pour into Sinai for the fourth consecutive day. Al Jazeera reported that Gazans were continuing to flow into the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing on Sunday morning, but in smaller quantities than in previous days. Egyptian security forces reportedly prevented supplies from reaching Rafah, forcing several shops in the border town to close. Egyptian parliamentarians warned that a continuation of the crisis on the Gaza-Egypt border was "dangerous." During a debate in the Egyptian Parliament in Cairo on Saturday night, several parliamentarians said that Israel was behind the crisis since it wanted to settle the Gazans in Sinai. As a result of Saturday's clashes between Gazans and Egyptian forces at the border, 38 Egyptian border policemen were hospitalized, some in critical condition, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said. Meanwhile, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i said that it was only a matter of time before a security fence is erected along the entire length of the Gaza-Egypt border. Speaking to Israel Radio on Sunday morning, Vilna'i estimated that Egypt would deal with the destroyed border in the "appropriate manner," adding that terror worried Egypt no less than it worried Israel. Vilan'i went on to say that the border from the Mediterranean to Eilat had been breached for 60 years and smuggling into Gaza had been going on long before the recent Rafah crossing crisis. On Wednesday, Abbas will meet his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak in Cairo to discuss the situation on the Gaza-Egypt border, an Abbas aide said Saturday. On Sunday morning, PA Minister for Prisoner Affairs Ashraf al-Ajrami said that the Ramallah government would refuse to let Hamas participate in the management of Gaza border crossings. In an interview with Voice of Palestine Radio, Ajrami said that the PA was seeking a way of opening of Gaza crossings that would be acceptable to both Israel and the international community. Depite reports of the deal between Egypt and the PA, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal claimed earlier Sunday that Egypt, Hamas and the PA were already in contact and were currently discussing how to transfer the Rafah Crossing to joint Hamas-Egyptian control. "Hamas is conducting negotiations with the Egyptians and the Palestinian Authority in order to come to an agreement regarding the management of the crossings and a solution to the crisis in the Gaza Strip," Mashaal told the London-based newspaper, Asharq Alawsat on Sunday. The Damascus-based leader added that Hamas would be willing to transfer control of presidential institutions in Gaza to Abbas, should he be willing to discuss a power-sharing arrangement with the Islamic group involving the PA security apparatus. "It is very important to Hamas to maintain security, to remove the blockade and not to harm the interests of the Egyptians," Mashaal said. "Opening the Rafah Crossing was a positive step and we must continue in suit." Khaled Abu Toameh and AP contributed to this report