Gaza, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Egyptian Government has formulated a (five-sided) plan for operating the Rafah crossing again, based on the 2005 Rafah crossing agreement, according to Palestinian sources.
The five parties are Egypt, the dismissed Hamas Government in Gaza, Israel, the EU, and the United States. The plan relies on the presence of the presidential security forces of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas (Abu-Mazin) and international observers. According to the sources, the Egyptian proposal includes a reference to a new mechanism for the search operations under European supervision and American guarantees in order to overcome Israel’s fears that the crossing could be used to smuggle weapons and fighting equipment.
The sources added that Egyptian Intelligence Minister Major General Umar Suleiman would arrive in Israel next week to discuss the plan with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Suleiman will also discuss with the Israeli officials the case of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gil’ad Shalit, which saw some progress recently following Israel’s approval of 200 names on the list of the 450detainees which Hamas is demanding their release in addition to the women, sick, and underage prisoners.
Gen. Amos Gil’ad, head of the diplomatic department at the Israeli Defense Ministry, prepared for this visit during a visit he made to Cairo recently.
Ayman Taha, a ” Hamas ” leader, told Asharq Al-Awsat that his movement has not seen the new plan formulated by the Egyptian side about reopening the crossing and added that the movement’s delegations which visited Egypt recently brought to the Egyptian Government the movement’s vision of the mechanism under which the crossing should operate, stressing Hamas’s rejection of a return to the old mechanism.
Taha went on to say that Hamas does not object in principle to the presence of international observers but cannot accept having them operate under the Israeli army’s influence. He added that Hamas proposed to the Egyptian side that the international observers should make Al-Arish or Gaza their headquarters and not stay in Israel so as not to come under Israeli influence. According to the Israeli “Ha’aretz” newspaper, the army and security services in Israel view such a plan with suspicion, especially the international observers’ role in light of the limited role they had played in the past. Egypt wants to reopen the crossing even partially, according to this newspaper, in order to improve the efforts for preventing the smuggling of weapons from Sinai to Gaza. Egypt also plays the mediator’s role to reach a separate agreement between Israel and Hamas.
Egypt expressed on several occasions its concerns about the unstable situation in the Gaza Strip and in particular since Hamas destroyed the border wall on 23 January which allows around half of the Strip’s population (750,000) to cross the borders into Egyptian territories.
On the chances of reaching a calm agreement between the Palestinian resistance and Israel, Taha said Israel is not concerned with calm and tries to explain it on the basis that it is an attempt on Hamas’s part to pause for breath and gain strength. He stressed that his movement and all the resistance factions could not offer a free calm to Israel.
It is worth mentioning that Israel is in contact with Hamas through European mediators and “Ha’aretz” cited a Hamas official it did not name that the Egyptian side informed Hamas at the recent meetings that the Israeli Government was willing to review the idea of calm.