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Israeli Cabinet Approves European Inspectors for Gaza Border


Israel's Security Cabinet has approved the deployment of European inspectors on the Gaza-Egypt border, a breakthrough in slow moving talks that could help shape the economic future of the impoverished coastal strip. The decision came as Israel continued an offensive against Palestinian militants.

The deployment of European inspectors is a key element of an emerging agreement on border security following Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip a month and a half ago. The inspectors would be posted at the Rafah terminal on the Gaza-Egypt border, giving Palestinians an open gateway to the world for the first time since Israel occupied the territory 38 years ago.

But the border is known as a haven for weapons smuggling from Egypt to Palestinian militants in Gaza, and hawkish Israeli parliamentarian Yuval Steinitz is worried.

"The terrorists are determined to continue smuggling," Mr. Steinitz told Israel Radio; "and foreign inspectors may not be as determined to stop them."

But Israel moved ahead with the agreement under U.S. pressure. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel to open the border, saying freedom of movement for people and goods is a necessary element of future Palestinian statehood.

Cabinet Minister Matan Vilnai of Israel's Labor Party agrees.

"If Israel's pullout from Gaza creates the biggest prison in the world, then it was a mistake to leave the area," Mr. Vilnai said.

Despite progress on the diplomatic front, Israel kept up an offensive against Palestinian militants in Gaza. Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a car in the Jebaliya refugee camp, killing two militant leaders, one from the Islamic group Hamas and the other from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Both groups promised revenge.

Israel launched the offensive after five Israelis were killed in a suicide bombing last week.

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