Germany, France, Britain propose EU mission to open Gaza crossing
Germany, France and Britain have proposed reactivating a European Union mission on the Egypt-Gaza border to help stabilise the Palestinian enclave after a month-long war, a German diplomatic source said on Wednesday.
The source said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and counterparts in Paris and London favoured restoring EU operations at the Rafah crossing that is the main window to the world for Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians.
A two-day-old Gaza ceasefire was holding on Wednesday as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israeli and Palestinian envoys on an enduring end to a war in which Israeli shelling wrecked whole areas of the Islamist Hamas-dominated territory.
The so-called EU Border Assistance Mission in Rafah started work in 2005 to monitor the crossing point as part of an accord worked out by Israel and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. The operation was halted two years later when Hamas militants seized control of the Gaza Strip.
Egypt has repeatedly shut the border over the past year, significantly increasing pressure on Gazans, who already face a rigid land and sea blockade imposed by Israel.
Egyptian diplomatic sources said that while Cairo might consider easing restrictions on movement through Rafah, it was unlikely to accept Hamas calls to allow a normal flow of trade.
Egypt insists that any discussion over Rafah take place bilaterally with the Palestinian Authority, a political rival of Hamas, rather than as part of any deal between the Palestinians and Israel to ease the Israeli blockade, the sources say.
On 16 July European Union leaders called on Israelis and Palestinians to end violence and said they welcomed efforts, particularly from Egypt, to broker a cease-fire following more than a week of warfare.
The leaders, meeting in Brussels, urged both sides to "de-escalate the situation, to end the violence, to end the suffering of the civilian populations notably by allowing access to humanitarian assistance, and return to calm".
In a statement, the EU leaders welcomed Egypt's efforts to mediate and called on the Islamic Hamas, which rules Gaza, to agree to a cease-fire.