The union is set to deploy 50 observers to watch operations at the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

 

Officials who met in Brussels on Monday said a first contingent of 12 officers and experts could be deployed to the Palestinian Authority-controlled outpost by the end of the week to prepare for the official start of their mission on 25 November, when the Rafah border crossing opens. Fifty to 70 officers and experts will be sent.

 

Israelis and Palestinians agreed to the opening of the crossing during talks last week.

 

The EU mission is to be led by an Italian police general, whose job will be to monitor the crossing to allay Israeli fears that the checkpoint could be used to smuggle resistance fighters or weapons into Gaza.

 

Mediating monitors

 

The monitors will act as mediators between the Israelis, who will keep tabs on the border via closed-circuit television, and the Palestinians running the crossing.

 

The mission will train the Palestinians to run a professional customs checkpoint.

 

Ministers discussed Bosnia's
membership to the EU

The foreign ministers were to consider sending a formal EU observer mission to monitor Palestinian parliamentary elections due on 25 January and to discuss further reconstruction aid the EU could offer to rebuild Gaza, including the airport, which was destroyed during five years of fighting with the Israelis.

 

Also at their meeting, the ministers were to agree on a date to open talks with Bosnia on a new partnership deal, which will help the Balkan country prepare for possible EU membership.

 

Nuclear talks

 

The ministers will discuss strategy before key UN nuclear agency talks on Thursday concerning Iran's nuclear programme, which the EU and Washington believes it is using to build weapons.

 

Tehran rejected a report by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran received black market nuclear designs that diplomats say appear to be blueprints for the core of a nuclear warhead.

 

The claims raise the stakes and tensions between the 25-nation EU, and Washington on one side against Iran.

 

The IAEA may refer Iran to the
UN Security Council (above)

The IAEA's 35-nation board could decide to refer Tehran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions for violating a nuclear arms control treaty.

 

Iran said it had begun converting a second batch of uranium into gas, a step that brings it closer to producing enriched uranium used to either generate electricity or build bombs.

 

The EU and the United States have called on Iran to re-impose a freeze on such conversion since August.