US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brokered a deal on Gaza border crossings in marathon talks with Israel and the Palestinians yesterday, scoring a rare breakthrough in Middle East diplomacy.
Rice, who put her own reputation at stake by investing so personally in the negotiations, had postponed her departure to Asia for an APEC meeting, staying in Jerusalem an extra day until she secured an agreement on opening the Gaza-Egypt border.
Access to Gaza is key to strengthening the impoverished strip's economy and giving a boost to chances for peacemaking following Israel's withdrawal from the territory in September after 38 years of occupation.
Bleary-eyed after an almost sleepless night of hard-nosed bargaining, Rice -- on her fourth visit to the region this year -- praised the deal as a "good step forward." It hands the Palestinians control of a border for the first time.
"This agreement is intended to give the Palestinian people the freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives," she told a news conference in Jerusalem before flying out.
Rice said the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, the strip's gateway to the outside world, should open on Nov. 25 with the presence of EU security monitors.
Palestinians would also be able to start traveling in bus and truck convoys between Gaza and the occupied West Bank within months, and construction of a Gaza seaport would begin.
Israel had conditioned the opening of Rafah on its ability to monitor goods and people passing through, saying it feared arms smuggling across the border to Palestinian militants. Palestinians had insisted that Israelis not be at Rafah.
An Israeli Defense Ministry source said a compromise was reached whereby a coordination center manned by Palestinians, Israelis and EU observers will be set up at Kerem Shalom, to which video images and data will be transmitted in real time.
Israel, which has kept control of Gaza's borders, air space and sea lanes since its withdrawal, has been under US pressure to reopen the Rafah crossing, mostly closed since September. Sporadic violence despite a ceasefire has dented peace hopes.
US officials had voiced frustration with what they viewed as the failure of both sides to capitalize on the Gaza withdrawal, the first removal of settlements by Israel from land Palestinians want for a state.
In a sign of tensions, President Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech after the Gaza deal was unveiled, accused Israel of trying to avoid peace talks and incite Palestinian civil war by insisting that militants be disarmed before any negotiations on statehood.
During her visit, Rice renewed US pressure on Abbas to act against armed groups. She also pressed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has vowed that Israel will keep large West Bank settlement blocs forever, to freeze settlement expansion.
Both sides had previously agreed to EU observers at Rafah, and differences centred on Israeli monitoring of the crossing.
Israel, fearing militants could take advantage of its lack of presence to smuggle weapons, wanted to monitor movements via a direct, real-time video feed. Palestinians had objected to that as an impingement on their sovereignty but compromised on a joint monitoring operation.
SOLIDARITY: A group of European lawmakers condemned China’s aggressive moves, while the foreign minister of Lithuania said Taiwan ‘cannot become a second Ukraine’ A German parliamentary delegation would visit Taiwan in the first week of October, German lawmaker Holger Becker on Monday told visiting Democratic Progressive Party legislators Fan Yun (范雲) and Lin I-chin (林宜瑾) at the Bundestag in Berlin. Asked by Fan whether he is worried about possible reprisals from Beijing, such as banning him and his family from entering China, Becker said he is more interested in visiting Taiwan, as “now is the time for democracies to stand together.” Fan and Lin also met with German officials to exchange views on digital education and governance. Investing in digital infrastructure and protecting equal rights to
‘IRRATIONAL ACTS’: The defense ministry condemned the drills, during which China tested successors to missiles deployed during the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995 and 1996 China yesterday fired several Dongfeng ballistic missiles as it began four days of unprecedented military drills off Taiwan proper following US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei the previous day. On Tuesday, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) said Beijing would “take all necessary measures” in retaliation should Pelosi visit Taiwan during her Asia tour. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from 1:56pm to 4pm fired 11 Dongfeng missiles into waters north, east and south of Taiwan proper, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said. Taiwanese armed forces, using “forward warning and surveillance mechanisms,” monitored the missile tests
ANNEXATION PLANS: Remarks by the Chinese ambassador to France showed that Beijing seeks to normalize genocide, re-education and gulags, a US official said European and US officials condemned comments from Chinese Ambassador to France Lu Shaye (盧沙野), after he on Wednesday said that Taiwanese would be “re-educated” after any annexation by China. In an interview on French television, Lu accused the Democratic Progressive Party of “extremist” propaganda and turning Taiwanese against “reunification” with China. “We will re-educate. I’m sure that the Taiwanese population will again become favorable of the reunification and will become patriots again,” Lu told BFM TV. The term “re-education” has been used to describe Chinese authorities’ treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang. European Parliament Subcommittee on Security and Defense Chairwoman
‘SIMULATED ATTACKS’: Ten warships each from China and Taiwan were maneuvering at close quarters in the Taiwan Strait, with some Chinese vessels crossing the median line Taiwan yesterday reiterated that it would not succumb to pressure from Beijing after China carried out its most provocative military drills in decades in retaliation for US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan last week. “We will never bow to pressure. We uphold freedom and democracy, and believe Taiwanese disapprove [of] China’s bullying actions with force and saber rattling at our door,” Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said yesterday. China had “arrogantly” disrupted regional peace and stability, he said, calling on Beijing to not flex its military muscles. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has also called on the international community to “support