Israel and Palestine work on security and customs arrangements

Israeli and Palestinian officials worked Friday to narrow their differences over how to operate the Gaza-Egypt border, while Israel's defense minister was to head to Egypt later this month for talks on the issue.

Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat met in Tel Aviv on Friday to work on security and customs arrangements at the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border, Gaza's main gate to the world. Erekat said the differences were largely technical and could be overcome.

"I don't think we are far apart. I think we are getting closer," he said after the meeting.

Israel left the border and closed Rafah as part of its Gaza pullout last month.

In the first days after the pullout, the border was overrun by thousands of Palestinians and Egyptians, but Palestinian and Egyptian border guards have since restored control. The Palestinians have said they would only reopen Rafah for good after reaching agreement with Israel on security and customs arrangements.

The reopening of Rafah is crucial for the economic recovery of Gaza, an impoverished crowded coastal strip of 1.3 million Palestinians.

Israel is concerned about an influx of weapons and militants into Gaza, and wants to be able to watch border traffic, at least long-distance via TV monitors. The Palestinians insist on full control with no Israeli presence, the AP reports.

Under an emerging deal, European inspectors would be deployed at Rafah, but Israel has not yet given its final approval. Goods would enter Gaza through a new terminal at the Gaza-Egypt-Israel meeting point, under direct Israeli inspection.

Erekat said several previous meetings yielded progress and he hoped the border could reopen in time for Eid el-Fitr, a major Muslim holiday at the beginning of November. He said Israel has made note of the Palestinian request, but not promised to aim for that target date.

The purpose of Friday's meeting was to evaluate where the two sides stood, Peres said, adding that he was optimistic of a swift resolution to the dispute.

"The passages will be decided next week, I hope so," Peres said.

Listing the points of dispute, Erekat said: "There is the issue of goods leaving Rafah from Gaza, the issue the security procedures on the passages, the role of the third party. All the issues are doable."

On photo: Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres.


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