Abbas: Gaza border row shows Hamas disregard for Palestinian needs
PA leader, Hamas head to Egypt for talks on breached Gaza frontier as Egypt works to seal border wall.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that by insisting on control of the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt, Hamas has shown that it is not concerned with the needs of the Palestinian people.
Abbas, who arrived Tuesday evening in Cairo for talks on the future of the border breached last week by Hamas militants, said said his faction was determined to have the crossing under its control and not Hamas'.
"The militant rivals, by refusing to give the border back showed that they don't want to serve the Palestinian people," he said.
Abbas has received the support of Arab states, the European Union and the United States over his proposal to let his forces control the frontier, thus excluding the rival Hamas movement which has run the coastal territory since its takeover in June.
Jittery about the chaos on its border caused by the influx of Palestinians, Egypt has invited Abbas and Hamas delegates for talks aimed at ending the weeklong crisis.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have flooded into Egypt unchecked over the past seven days since Hamas militants blasted holes in the border partition.
But the flow of Palestinians slowed considerably Tuesday, after Egypt, working with Hamas security forces, sealed one of three breaches in the border with a chain-link fence a day earlier.
Two large border breaches remained open and Egyptian border guards began repairing one of those Tuesday.
The Egyptians also deployed several dozen riot police armed with shields and batons at the two remaining openings, suggesting that the cross-border free-for-all may soon come to an end. Other riot police blocked Rafah's main road and told Palestinian cars to head back to Gaza.
But it was unclear when Egypt planned to completely fix the wall, and cars and trucks continued travel freely between the divided city Tuesday.
Egypt wants to restore shared control of the border among the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and European Union monitors, but the militant Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from the border after violently seizing Gaza in June.
Since then and until the border breach, Israel and Egypt had kept Gaza largely sealed.
Abbas has expressed readiness to take on the responsibility of all crossing points in Gaza to solve the crisis, but Hamas has insisted it must have a role and that old arrangements are no longer valid.
That has caused rising tension between Hamas and Egypt, and little hopes for a breakthrough during key meetings Wednesday.
An Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman reiterated Cairo's stance on Tuesday, saying: "The Egyptian view is that the Rafah crossing should be back to operation in a way that will allow the Palestinian Authority representatives and the EU observers to administer it."
Hamas urges Gazans to cooperate with security forces
In Gazan Rafah, about 50 Hamas lawmakers and intellectuals staged a rally Tuesday to thank Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for allowing the Palestinians to cross the border.
But deputy Parliament Speaker Ahmed Bahar also urged Egypt to allow Gazans to travel outside of Egypt and asked Palestinians to work with Egyptian security officials.
"We call on our people to cooperate with Egyptian security, whose work we appreciate, and to exhibit discipline and to respond to their orders in order to organize the exit and entry along the border," Bahar said.
By nightfall Tuesday, three Gazans who had made it as far as Kafr el-Sheik province, some 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of Cairo, were arrested and taken back to Rafah, a security official said. T
The Gazans carried no ID papers, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The arrestes may trigger concerns in Cairo that Gazans could slip deeper into Egypt if the Rafah breaches remain open.
Officials: Israel won't block Abbas control of border
Earlier Tuesday, Israeli officials said that Israel does not plan to block Abbas from assuming control of Gaza's border crossing with Egypt if he reaches an agreement to do so with Cairo.
Abbas has won international backing for taking control of Gaza's border crossing with Egypt at Rafah, though it is unclear how he and his forces would do so given Hamas' control of Gaza.
"If all of them want it, we will not be the ones that will undermine it. So it will happen," an official familiar with the deliberations said. "Given that we see Abbas as the legitimate force and we don't want to weaken him, we have no reason to prevent it."
But the official stressed that Israel has not agreed to giving Abbas control over Gaza's border crossings with Israel, citing security concerns. Abbas has proposed taking over all of the crossings.
"Rafah doesn't cross into Israel. Crossing into Israel, that is a different issue altogether," the official said.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday signaled American support for Abbas' forces taking charge of the border, saying it might help bring "some order" to the Rafah border crossing.
"There would be many details that would have to be worked out and I can't comment on any specific detail because this is obviously a very complex - would be a very complex operation in itself," Rice told reporters when asked whether Washington supported Abbas' forces taking charge of the border.
"But we have said that in concept it should be supported and that the parties should look to see if that might be one way to handle the situation," she said at a news conference after meeting Australia's foreign minister.
Egypt said Monday it wanted Palestinian Authority forces under Abbas to control its border crossing with Gaza, while Arab foreign ministers meeting in an emergency session in Cairo on Sunday welcomed Abbas' proposal to take control of the border.
The European Union said it would consider returning monitors to the crossing.
Hamas, however, has reacted angrily to the proposal, calling it an "Israeli-led international conspiracy with the participation of some regional parties."
"We tell all parties that we will not allow the return of old conditions at the crossing," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri.
Both Abbas and Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal are expected in Cairo this week to discuss the issue with Egyptian officials.