Israel to Seal Rafah Crossing on Thursday as Part of Gaza Pullout

Gov't to approve early IDF withdrawal from Gaza; Israel set to hand over parts of northern West Bank to PA.

Amos Harel
Aluf Benn
Haaretz Correspondents
Amos Harel
Aluf Benn
Haaretz Correspondents

Israel is to close the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt until further notice, Israel Defense Forces officials said Wednesday, after Cabinet ministers proposed new arrangements that could include movement of Palestinians in and out of Gaza under the supervision of foreign inspectors without an Israeli presence.

The officials said the crossing, the only land link between Gaza and the outside world without passing through Israel, would be shut down on Thursday.

Palestinian officials said it was a unilateral Israeli move, and they were informed of the decision on Wednesday.

According to government and defense sources, Israel is leaning toward accepting an Egyptian-brokered compromise over the operation of the border crossing from Sinai to the Gaza Strip.

According to the proposal, Egypt will close the present Rafah crossing for "renovations" for a period of six to nine months immediately after Israel leaves the Philadelphi border patrol route. People and goods will cross into the Gaza Strip via a new terminal Israel is building at Kerem Shalom at the Gaza-Sinai-Israel border, which will be under Israeli control.

After the renovations are completed, the Rafah crossing will be reopened for entry into the Gaza Strip and operated by European monitors. Surveillance cameras will be installed to transmit pictures to Israel so it can retain control over security.

Goods will continue to pass through Kerem Shalom until the future of the customs union between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank is decided.

Not all Israeli officials are satisfied with the compromise, especially before the powers of the European monitors are defined and their ability to prevent smuggling is determined.

Gov't to approve early Gaza troop pullout The government is set to approve Sunday the early withdrawal of IDF soldiers from the Gaza Strip next week, three days ahead of schedule.

IDF sources said that troops will have 24 hours to complete the pullout from the moment Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gives the order to do so.

The precise moment of withdrawal depends on the decision reached regarding whether to demolish or move the synagogues in the evacuated settlements, either of which could take a day or two to complete.

Sharon summoned his top ministers Wednesday to a crucial meeting to discuss the last disengagement-related issues left unsettled.

The meeting, attended by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Finance Minister Ehud Olmert (Likud) and Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Minister Haim Ramon (Labor), touched upon issues such as who would control the Egypt-Gaza border crossing, the IDF's withdrawal from the Philadelphi route and the timing of the transfer of the evacuated Gaza areas to the Palestinians.

Later Wednesday, the IDF was expected to recommend to Sharon to tie the Philadelphi route withdrawal together with the handing over of the former Gaza settlements to the Palestinians.

Israel to transfer parts of northern West Bank to PA Israel is to transfer responsibility for most of the area it evacuated in the northern West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, according to an IDF source. The source told Haaretz that the IDF would enter the area only if intelligence information indicated a terror attack was being planned there.

The area where the four evacuated settlements, Ganim, Kadim, Homesh and Sa-Nur, used to sit is considered Area C - in full Israeli control - reportedly in order to keep it as a bargaining chip in future negotiations over the West Bank.

Though the concerned territory will remain formally designated at Area C, it will in practice be related to as Area A - territory under full Palestinian civil and security control.

According to government and defense sources, because Israel does not want to maintain a presence in the evacuated area, it has told the Palestinians during talks between officers that it intends to give them most of the responsibility for the region.

The IDF will reportedly not enforce the prohibition against unauthorized Palestinian construction, as it does not in other areas of the West Bank, as long as building does not take place close to the separation fence or roads.

Sharon will have to decide whether he wants to complete the transfer before his speech at the UN General Assembly on September 15, or to delay the transfer until after PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas returns from the General Assembly.

Jerusalem reportedly favors transferring control directly to Abbas at a formal ceremony, as a means of underscoring the Israeli position that with its withdrawal, the end of occupation status has been reached. Israel also believes Abbas' presence helps preserve peace and quiet.

The IDF and Defense Ministry have finished demolishing the buildings in Ganim and Kadim, aside from the synagogues. Except for the perimeter fence and projector lights, no sign remains of the Israeli settlements that stood here until three weeks ago. The destruction of Sa-Nur and Homesh has not yet been completed.



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