Sat, Oct 28, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Solana optimistic about Rafah passage

PROGRESS The EU foreign policy chief is confident that the crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which has been closed for months by Israel, will soon re-open permanently

AP , TEL AVIV

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he hoped a crucial crossing between Gaza and the outside world, which has been closed by Israel for most of the past four months, would be reopened on a regular basis soon.

EU officials who monitor the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt have threatened to abandon their mission if Israel keeps closing the passage for what it says are security reasons.

"We hope to have in a few days or weeks -- we hope days -- a response on a renewal of our presence in Rafah," Solana said on Thursday at a joint news conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni after they met in Tel Aviv.

The Rafah passage, previously controlled by Israel, was handed to EU-supervised Palestinian control last year under an accord brokered by the US.

Israel has kept the crossing closed for all but 12 days since Palestinian gunmen captured an Israeli soldier in June and took him into the Gaza Strip. It fears militants would try to sneak the soldier across the border to Egypt and also says Rafah has become a conduit for weapons smuggling into Gaza.

Livni said that while talk was needed about operational issues at Rafah, Israel was happy with the EU's involvement there, the first time it has accepted a European role in security aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

"We are going to negotiate with the Europeans on the future terms," she said. "But we are very positive about the role of Europe in monitoring the Rafah passage."

Solana arrived in Israel on Wednesday for meetings with top Israeli and Palestinian officials, the first leg of a six-day tour of the Middle East meant to assess the political mood of key players in the region.

EU officials were doubtful that Solana's trip would yield breakthroughs, acknowledging early on in the trip that divisions between Israelis and Palestinians remain as deep as ever.

After meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Solana said he reported on his efforts with the Israelis.

"I have tried to work with the government of Israel to try to upgrade the crossings which are very fundamental," he told reporters.

Solana was expected to push Abbas and his Fatah Party to boost efforts to form a unity government with the Hamas-led Palestinian government, which is isolated from the international community over its refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

But Abbas said after the meeting that there is no point in further dialogue between his Fatah movement and Hamas.

"Dialogue has overused its purposes, and everything is clear now," he said.

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