Gaza border to reopen

A main crossing from southern Gaza into Egypt, closed in September as Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza, was set to reopen Saturday following a United States-brokered deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attended a ceremony Friday to mark the reopening of the Rafa crossing.On Thursday, he met with European Union diplomats who will monitor the operation. The reopening means that Palestinians will have control over their own border for the first time in nearly 40 years.

"It's an historic moment," said Mark Otte, EU Middle East envoy. "For the first time, the Palestinians will be in control of their borders. We consider that extremely important, because not only will it signify for the people a huge change in their lives to travel freely, it's freedom. It's opening."Also, Otte said, "managing a border is an essential attribute of a state."

The deal was announced earlier this month by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was on a trip to the region to mark the 10th anniversary of the slaying of Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin and oversaw all-night negotiations on the topic, staying a day later than scheduled to encourage talks.

Palestinians have said that relaxing Israel's border restrictions would help the region's ailing economy after the pullout of Israeli forces and Jewish settlers in September, while Israel wanted measures in place to protect against terrorism.

Under terms of the agreement, Palestinians will have security forces present on their side of the border, and residents will be allowed to enter Israel without undergoing checks by Israeli security. The crossings will be monitored by EU representatives as well, and Israelis will also watch from a few kilometers away via closed-circuit television.

Any disputes between the two sides will be mediated by the EU. If Israelis, for instance, believe weapons are being smuggled across the border, they would protest to the EU. If the EU believes the Israelis have a case, the border will be closed.

The deal also includes construction of a Gaza seaport, and will allow Palestinians to travel between the West Bank and Gaza in bus convoys through Israel, Rice said earlier this month.The border was closed as Israeli troops and settlers withdrew from Gaza after decades of occupation. Since the historic pullout, the ease of movement for people and goods in and out of Gaza has presented a problem.

Palestinians said they could not build a viable economy without freedom of movement. But Israelis pointed out that terrorists frequently have used the Rafa crossing to transport bombs and other weapons, reports CNN. I.L.

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