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European observers: No request to return to Gaza crossing

Arab World Materials 26 May 2011 14:44
The inoperative mission of European observers, who under a 2005 agreement should be monitoring the Gaza-Egypt border crossing, said Thursday they had not received a request to return.
European observers: No request to return to Gaza crossing

The inoperative mission of European observers, who under a 2005 agreement should be monitoring the Gaza-Egypt border crossing, said Thursday they had not received a request to return, DPA reported.

A spokesman said the European Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) had not been told to redeploy in Rafah.

The Egyptian government announced that starting Saturday the Rafah border crossing would be open each day from 9 am to 9 pm, except for Fridays and holidays.

The observers would only be able to resume their work at the crossing at the formal invitation of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the parties to the 2005 agreement that established the mission - and not as a result of any unilateral action by Egypt.

Egypt would, however, also have to agree and cooperate for the monitors to be able to return, spokesman Benoit Cusin said. They were ready to reactivate the mission any time, as European foreign ministers had reiterated on Monday, he said.

The mission suspended its work after the Islamist Hamas movement seized sole control of Gaza in 2007.

Cusin said EUBAM was still following the situation at Rafah closely. The observers were aware of Egypt's decision to reopen the Rafah crossing, through the media, and waiting to see its impact.

"It is well know that the freedom of movement of Palestinians in and out of Gaza is one of the top priorities of the EU," he told the German Press Agency dpa.

Cusin expressed concern that without the European monitors, international standards for security checks and passengers' rights may not be upheld.

He noted that Rafah had already been open five days a week for about eight hours a day, but had been functioning on a "very, very limited basis." Only travellers including students, foreign passport holders and patients with special authorization from the Egyptian authorities were allowed to cross.

Under the recent, restrictive regulations, an estimated 400 people had been passing through Rafah daily, compared to about 1,500 a day during the two years the European monitors were present, he said.

The crossing has been briefly closed during the Egypt unrest, but reopened in late February.

Opening the Egypt-Gaza border will ease the isolation of the more than 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza. But Israel fears it could also facilitate the smuggling of both weapons and money into the strip ruled by Hamas.

The decision comes as a sharp turnaround in Cairo after the ouster earlier this year of former president Hosny Mubarak, whose government had restricted movement of people and goods from the enclave, partially due to disagreements with Hamas.

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