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Source:
7 November 2005


EU 'impressed' by Palestinian efforts at Gaza border

The European Union's Middle East envoy said Monday he was "impressed" by Palestinian preparations to re-open the Gaza-Egypt border and played down the powers EU observers might have under an eventual deal with Israel.

"I'm very impressed by the professional attitude, the competence of the people and the installations you've got here," Marc Otte told a news conference with Palestinian civil affairs minister Mohammed Dahlan.

"I can certify that the Palestinian Authority has made serious professional preparations to handle the operations here," said Otte at the terminal, which has been largely closed since Israel's historic departure from Gaza in September.

Expressing hopes that there would "soon" be a final agreement on how to manage the border, Otte stressed that EU representatives to be deployed to the terminal would not exercise direct control over Palestinian travellers.

"We are not here to control anybody. We are not here to control Palestinians in the name of somebody else. We are here to help, assist and make it happen," the EU envoy said.

Differences remain between the European Union, Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the precise role of EU representatives and how the border crossing will function.

No date has been set for reopening the crossing, which is the Palestinians' only land access to the outside world that bypasses Israel.

Dahlan called on Otte to make every effort to ensure that terminal would reopen as quickly as possible.

"We could see today that the necessary preparations have been completed and that the terminal can be reopened at any moment," he said.

Israel is under pressure from Washington and the international envoy for the Gaza pullout, James Wolfensohn, to conclude a deal as quickly as possible.

Israeli and Palestinians are later Monday to meet Wolfensohn to discuss the remaining differences over Rafah, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.

"The direct camera surveillance that Israel is demanding is one of the main differences. It is unacceptable to Palestinians, especially when the presence of a third party (the Europeans) makes such surveillance unnecessary," he said.

Israel has been lobbying hard for EU representatives to have formal powers at the crossing and not be mere observers.

Last week, its security cabinet approved a decision to reopen the terminal under Egyptian and Palestinian control, with European observers monitoring the crossing and real-time surveillance by Israeli cameras.

Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who has headed up negotiations with the Europeans, has said Israel's withdrawal from Gaza will "not be complete" until the Rafah question is solved.


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