JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will not block Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from assuming control of the Gaza Strip’s breached border crossing with Egypt as part of an agreement with Cairo, Israeli officials said on Tuesday.
It is unclear how Abbas, the Fatah leader, can take over the crossing with Egypt given opposition from Hamas Islamists who seized the coastal territory in June and blasted open the border with Egypt last week in defiance of an Israeli-led blockade.
Abbas has won U.S., European and Arab backing for taking control of Gaza’s only border crossing with Egypt at Rafah, but he has faced resistance from Israel.
“If all of them want it, we will not be the ones that will undermine it. So it will happen,” an Israeli official familiar with the deliberations said. “Given that we see Abbas as the legitimate force and we don’t want to weaken him, we have no reason to prevent it.”
But the official stressed that Israel has not agreed to giving Abbas control over Gaza’s border crossings with Israel, citing security concerns. Abbas has proposed taking over all of the crossings.
“Rafah doesn’t cross into Israel. Crossing into Israel, that is a different issue altogether,” the official said.
The Rafah crossing with Egypt has largely been closed since June after Hamas routed Abbas’s forces, prompting the European Union to withdraw its border monitors.
The EU said on Monday it would consider sending the monitors back to the border, provided Israel, Egypt and Abbas all agree.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit also endorsed Abbas’s proposal to deploy his own, Western-backed forces at the crossing along with the EU monitors, though the presence of neither force was imminent, given Hamas’s command on the ground.
Hamas rejected what it called an “Israeli-led international conspiracy with the participation of some regional parties,” which would exclude the group from controlling the border.
Hamas said it would not allow “the return of old conditions at the crossing.”
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians poured into Egypt after Hamas militants blew up the border wall last week to allow the territory’s 1.5 million people to stock up on food in short supply due to the blockade, which Israel said was tightened in response to cross-border rocket attacks.