Saturday, 7 September 2013

Neither tunnels nor a buffer zone with Gaza: Egypt officials


Cairo is working closely with the UN to help Gaza find an alternative to the tunnels linking it with Egypt, government officials have told Ahram Online.

"We are exploring a few options and the UN is conducting talks with Hamas leaders in Gaza to find a way forward. We acknowledge the needs of Gazans to find a stable and legal way to get supplies ranging from food to medicine, and we insist that Israel, in its capacity as occupying power, honours its responsibility towards Palestinians,” says one.

According to another, Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East, is currently working with all concerned parties, including Israel, to explore a mechanism to help expand the very limited list of goods that Israel allows Gazans to import under the pretext of denying the Hamas-ruled population access to material that could be used to develop weapons.

The consultations conducted by both Serry and Cairo, independently and jointly, also include an arrangement to facilitate the transport of individuals to and from the Gaza Strip through the Egyptian Rafah crossing point – basically the only access to the outside world for 1.5 million Gazans.

Sources suggest one formula being considered for re-introduction, either as it used to be or with some amendments, is the 2005 agreement concluded by the US and Gaza (then still under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA)), Egypt, Israel and a group of European Union monitors. The deal permitted the monitoring of imports by EU teams, which also spared Egypt from having to put up with Israeli allegations about the smuggling of any non-permitted good into Gaza.

"As far as we are concerned, we want to help the Palestinians in Gaza have an easier time but this cannot be done at the expense of Egyptian security – there is no going back and no flexibility on this matter,” says a security source.

Since president Mohamed Morsi was ousted, Cairo has been destroying what officials say are hundreds of tunnels linking Egypt's eastern border with the Gaza Strip.

According to the security source, over 50 percent of the tunnels have been destroyed and "we are currently taking the necessary security arrangements to make sure these tunnels will not be rebuilt."

While the security source declined to say if these new security arrangements would resume the construction of thick metal bars on the border to prevent the reconstruction of tunnels, other government officials say the measures will be "varied," but would not amount to establishing a "buffer zone" between Egypt and Gaza.

"We are talking about tougher security arrangements but we are not planning a buffer zone," insists one. He added that any tension between Hamas leaders in Gaza and Cairo, following Hamas' unfavourable reaction to Morsi's removal, would not prompt Cairo to "undermine strategic interests to keep in close contact with Gaza." more

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