Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz on Wednesday also said in Cairo that agreement had been reached for the involvement of a third party, neither Egyptian nor Palestinian, at the Rafah crossing but who it would be had yet to be decided.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had on Tuesday urged Israel to ease border crossings around Gaza, saying it was essential to spur an economic revival needed for peace.

Israel removed its forces from the border between Egypt and Gaza in September when it pulled out of the whole Gaza Strip.

Immediately after Israel's withdrawal, thousands of Palestinians surged across the border until Egyptian forces restored order.

Permanent system

The three sides have been working on a permanent border arrangement. Israel wants a system in place that will prevent fighters from crossing freely between Gaza and Egypt now that its forces are not in control, an Israeli source said.

Mofaz (L) said a third party would
monitor border crossings

"We adopted the Egyptian proposal about the Rafah passage, which means that (people) will be able to move from Gaza to Egypt and from Egypt to Gaza through the passage in Rafah," Mofaz said after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"We discussed the issue of a third party in the Rafah passage. We have to continue this discussion and to agree about who will be the third party and what will be (its) mission," he told the news conference.

Timetable

He did not give a timetable for implementing the Rafah crossing plans. Israel has previously said it agreed in principle to a European Union role in policing the Gaza border.

"Trucks and goods will move by Kerem Shalom passage. We will accomplish it in one month from now," Mofaz said.

"We are trying to ease life of the Palestinians and to improve the economic situation in the Palestinian side, but the main obstacle is the terror activities"

Shaul Mofaz,
Israeli Defence Minister

The Kerem Shalom crossing is south of Rafah at a point where the Egyptian, Gaza and Israeli borders meet. Israeli press reports said Israel wanted to monitor goods crossing into Gaza

because of its customs union with Palestinian areas.

Analysts say that improving the Palestinians' commercial links to the outside world is crucial to reviving their tattered economy. Long delays at border checkpoints mean Palestinian agricultural produce often rots before reaching its destination.

"We are trying to ease life of the Palestinians and to improve the economic situation in the Palestinian side, but the main obstacle is the terror activities," Mofaz said.