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Palestinians, Israelis Welcome Gaza Border Accord


Israelis and Palestinians say they welcome the Gaza border agreement brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The agreement re-opens the Gaza Strip border with Egypt, and will also allow Palestinians to travel between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Under the agreement 57 foreign security experts from the European Union, supervised by an Italian police general will monitor the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, which will in effect become an international border for Palestinians.

No Israelis will be present at Rafah, but security cameras will be placed there, and a joint team of Israelis and Palestinians will monitor the border in real time, at a checkpoint a few kilometers away, to try and ensure that no weapons are brought into Gaza.

Palestinian Authority negotiators had said they would not accept any Israelis at the border and Israel had insisted on cameras and third party monitoring before the crossing could be reopened. The Rafah border crossing was closed shortly after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and the border was overwhelmed by Palestinians seeking to cross into Egypt. Israel had insisted that the border crossing be secured before it was reopened.

Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev says the new agreement addresses Israel's biggest concern.

"The fear was that extremists would use porous borders to pour into Gaza to bring in explosives, weaponry cash, and that would energize the most extremist elements in the Gaza Strip instead of helping the moderates," said Mark Regev. "I think this agreement that we have reached today has the right balance. It provides the maximum possible movement for Palestinians to move in and out of Gaza, as they desire and for goods to come in and out of Gaza, and at the same time for that to be balanced with the very real security concerns that everyone has."

Under the agreement reached on Tuesday Israel will also allow bus convoys to pass between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank starting on December 15. Palestinians had complained bitterly that Gaza had in effect become a prison camp since Israel's withdrawal, because Gaza's borders had been closed, and Palestinians could not visit each other.

Truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza Strip will begin one month later. Israel will also allow the export of Palestinian produce from Gaza and allow 150 commercial trucks to pass through the Gaza - Israel border by the end of the year on a daily basis - a number that will rise to 400 by the end of next year. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed the agreement in a speech to an Israeli audience on Tuesday. Mr. Erekat said he hoped the agreement would lead to a resumption of the peace process.

"If we have an Israeli partner, willing to engage in these negotiations, mark our words, we do not need more than six months to conclude a historic permanent status treaty with Israel," said Saeb Erekat. "This is not a slogan."

In her remarks following the announcement of the agreement on Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautioned that the agreement is made up of numerous details, each of which will have to be fulfilled. She pledged to stay engaged in the process, and closely monitor implementation of the agreement, noting that it offers both sides a framework for accepting big principles that could lead to further progress on the road map peace plan.

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