Egypt: Gaza border deal not finished

Egypt has denied it reached a deal with Israel on the deployment of hundreds of Egyptian border guards along the southern border of the Gaza Strip after Israel's pullout.

    Abbas said Egypt would take part in talks on the Rafah crossing

    A source close to the Egyptian presidency said on Wednesday that some fine-tuning remained to be done before the deal was done.

    Israel said earlier that it had reached a deal with Egypt on the deployment.

    "We have reached total agreement with the Egyptians; there only remains the green light from the government and the Knesset (parliament) to be able to organise the signing ceremony," General Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defence ministry official, told military radio on Wednesday.

    "This is an extremely detailed accord which fixes everything down to the number of pistols" for the Egyptian guards.

    A source close to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the accord should be approved by the government and parliament "in the coming days".

    However, a senior official close to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said no final deal on the deployment of Egyptian border guards had been agreed upon.

    "It's almost done, but there is still some fine-tuning to do," he said, adding that discussions on the Rafah border crossing would take much longer. 

    Egypt wants its soldiers to
    control crossing into Gaza

    While nearly all soldiers were to be withdrawn from Gaza as part of the so-called disengagement plan, Israel had intended to keep a small contingent on the Rafah border, which has been a major conduit of arms smuggling.
    However, Egypt and Israel have been locked in discussions for several months so that Egyptian soldiers take responsibility for the border after the pullout.
    Rafah crossing

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Egypt's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, would take part in talks on the future of the Rafah crossing next week, saying the matter was crucial if the territory was not to become a "prison".
    "Omar Suleiman will visit the Palestinian Authority on 29 August to follow the issue" of the future of the Rafah terminal, Abbas told reporters after talks with Mubarak.

    "The resolution of this question will determine whether Gaza becomes a prison or not" after Israel's withdrawal from the territory, he said, adding that the pullout was expected to be completed by 4 October.
    The Rafah crossing is the only link to the outside world for the 1.3 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. 

    Third party

    "The terminal was built on the basis of a Palestinian-Israeli-international agreement and following a Palestinian-Israeli-Egyptian agreement"

    Salim Abu Safia,
    Gaza border official

    Gaza border official Salim Abu Safia said the Palestinian Authority was willing for a third party, such as the Europeans, to monitor the crossing but said that on no account should the border terminal be moved to Israel proper. 
    "The terminal was built on the basis of a Palestinian-Israeli-international agreement and following a Palestinian-Israeli-Egyptian agreement. There is no question of moving it - we will not accept it," he said.

    Israeli-Egyptian relations have improved in recent months, with both countries keen to ensure that the pullout does not create a vacuum that is filled by Hamas.

    The Egyptian deployment will be the first by paramilitary units on the border since the 1967 war when the Gaza Strip, then administered by Egypt, and the Sinai Peninsula were seized by Israel.
    Under the 1979 peace accord between Israel and Egypt, only lightly armed police officers could be posted at the demilitarised zone after the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai.



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