Israel to allow traffic through Rafah
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz yesterday accepted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's proposal to reopen the Gaza-Egypt border crossing at Rafah, at a meeting with Mubarak in Cairo.
"We adopted the Egyptian proposal about the Rafah passage, which means that [people] will be able to move from Gaza to Egypt and back via the Rafah terminal," Mofaz said after the meeting.
Mofaz promised the Egyptians that the terminal would open in about a month.
Merchandise will be moved via the new terminal built in Kerem Shalom on the Israeli-Egyptian border, thereby preserving the customs agreement between Israel and Gaza.
According to the agreement, the Rafah terminal will operate under joint Palestinian-Egyptian management, with European inspectors monitoring all entrants. The involvement of a third party is meant to make it difficult for terrorists to cross the border. In addition, Israel will monitor those entering the Gaza Strip using surveillance cameras.
"We discussed the issue of a third party in the Rafah passage. We have to continue this discussion and to reach an agreement about who the third party will be and what will be [its] mission," Mofaz told a news conference.
The decision will end the isolation of the Gaza Strip, whose crossings have periodically been opened for short periods for humanitarian reasons. Earlier yesterday, the Erez and Karni crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip were reopened, two days after they were closed in the wake of rocket fire from the Strip.
Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi also attended the meeting.
Mofaz said Israel was pleased by the Egyptian activity on the Philadelphi route, which has stopped most of the smuggling in the area. "Since they've taken over, we feel a considerable improvement in dealing with smuggling, although there is still room for improvement," Mofaz said.
On Sunday, the Egyptian and Israeli military commanders on the Egyptian border are scheduled to meet to set up a coordination system.
Mofaz raised the issue of the heightened tension with the Palestinians over security issues and told Mubarak that a number of terror attacks were being planned against Israel. He also told Mubarak that Israel objects to Hamas' participation in the Palestinian parliamentary elections due in January.
Mofaz cited the interview with Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar in yesterday's Haaretz as proof that Hamas is a terrorist organization rather than a political party and said that this is why it must not be allowed to take part in the elections.
"I told the president that only yesterday, Zahar declared that his organization would continue to kidnap and murder Israelis and that any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is temporary, because Israel must be erased from the map," Mofaz told reporters after meeting with Mubarak.
"This is the Hamas' ideology; they continue producing terrorist acts and at the same time they want to run in the elections, they can't have it both ways," Mofaz said.
However, Mofaz promised that Israel would not hinder the Palestinian elections. At the same time, he said that Israel would not hold talks with Hamas representatives, even if they were elected to the Palestinian leadership.
Mofaz told Mubarak that Egypt and Israel must try to strengthen Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.