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Gaza Border Security Deal in Danger of Collapse


Israel is accusing the Palestinian Authority of allowing wanted terrorists to cross into the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Israel says it's a violation of a border security agreement brokered by the U.S. last month.

Israel is furious after 15 exiled members of the Islamic militant group Hamas entered Gaza from Egypt through the new Rafah border crossing. Among those who returned is a top leader of the group, Fadel Zahar, who was deported by Israel in 1991.

Under a US-brokered agreement, the Palestinians took control of the volatile border a week ago and made a commitment to prevent the smuggling of terrorists and weapons. Israeli Defense Ministry official David Chacham says the Palestinians are violating the agreement, and that poses a threat to the state of Israel. "Our main issue in this regards is to prevent the entrance of terror elements, of terrorists, from the Palestinian areas into the Israeli territory in order to perpetrate terror acts against the Israeli citizens," he said.

Palestinian security officials admit that Hamas militants wanted by Israel have crossed the border, but they say that anyone with a Palestinian identity card can enter Gaza. They say Israel's demand that such fugitives be kept out is not part of the agreement.

But Mr. Chacham says that by harboring terrorists, the Palestinian Authority is harming the peace process. "Hamas still adheres to the old strategy and calls and preaches publicly and explicitly to the destruction of the state of Israel and to the establishment of a Palestinian Islamic state on its ruins," he said.

The Rafah crossing marks the first time the Palestinians have gained independent control over one of their borders. U.S. Secretary of State of Condoleezza Rice, who brokered the deal, said it is a boost for the peace process and a step toward Palestinian statehood.

But Israel has warned that if wanted militants continue to cross the Egypt-Gaza border, it will impose economic sanctions and close its borders to Palestinian workers and goods. So just a week after the border reopened with much fanfare and high hopes for peace, the agreement is in danger of collapse.