Hamas demands border control role

Palestinian group says it must be part of any deal ahead of talks in Egypt.

    Hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents have stocked up on supplies in Rafah [AFP]

    Hamas has said that it must have a role in the control of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, ahead of talks in Cairo on the future of the border point.

    Hamas' statement has led to rising tensions with Egypt, offering little hope for a breakthrough during crucial meetings to be held on Wednesday.

    Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and leaders from Egypt and Hamas are set to hold negotiations in the Egyptian capital.

    Israel says it "will not oppose" a deal that would see the Palestinian Authority (PA) of Abbas take control of Rafah, according to officials.

    Hamas denunciation

    Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, has strongly criticised the idea of returning to the 2005 border arrangements.

    He said the idea was "an international Israeli conspiracy, in which some regional elements and Ramallah [Fatah] are participating".

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    Egypt increased security around the border town of Rafah on Tuesday, and resealed parts of the barrier destroyed a week ago by Hamas fighters, in an attempt to control the flow of people in and out of the Gaza Strip.

    Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have flooded into Egypt during the last week to buy essential supplies previously denied them by an Israeli blockade of the territory. The flow of Palestinians slowed considerably on Tuesday.

    Ghazi Hamad, another Hamas spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the group recognised it needed to resolve its differences with the PA in order that Palestinians can have control of the crossing.

    "We are committed to the priority of reopening the crossings and alleviating our people's suffering," he said.

    "But Hamas cannot be excluded from any agreement reached."

    Israeli resistance

    Abbas has won support from US, European and Arab ministers for taking charge of Rafah, but he has faced resistance from Israel for control of crossings into Israel.

    An Israeli official said that Israel had not agreed to give Abbas control over Gaza's border crossings with Israel, citing security concerns.

    "Crossing into Israel, that is a different issue altogether," the official said.

    Gaza's border crossings have emerged as an important issue in the power struggle between Hamas and Abbas, whose authority has been limited to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, home to 2.5 million Palestinians, since Hamas' takeover of Gaza in June.

    Abbas has proposed taking over all of Gaza's crossings with Egypt and Israel, seeking strategic footholds in the Hamas-controlled enclave.

    Hamas sees the effort as part of a campaign to limit its power, won in elections in January 2006.

    Isolation strategy

    Israel has shut its own border with Gaza as part of its campaign to isolate Hamas and counter cross-border rockets fired by fighters.

    Under heavy international pressure to ease its cordon, Israel has allowed European-funded fuel to reach Gaza's main power plant, but the main UN aid agency said its food shipments have been blocked for nearly a week.

    The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said it will run out of canned meat to distribute to impoverished Gazans as early as Wednesday due to the Israeli restrictions.

    Egyptian soldiers have begun sealing
    the breach in the Rafah barrier [AFP]
    The EU said on Monday it would consider sending its border monitors back to the Rafah terminal, provided Israel, Egypt and Abbas all agreed.

    Meanwhile, tensions along Gaza's frontier with Egypt flared again on Tuesday when Egyptian forces tried to prevent Palestinian vehicles from driving into Egypt.

    Hamas fighters intervened, firing into the air to clear the way for the cars to pass.

    They threatened to blast open new holes in the border if Egyptian forces refused to back down.

    Egyptian forces strung barbed wire along some of the gaps between two gates leading into the Palestinian territory, while riot police were deployed on roads from Rafah to the border crossings.

    A security force of around 20,000 has been deployed in north of the Sinai peninsula since Saturday, an Egyptian source told the AFP news agency.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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