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PALESTINE - Nov 25 - In Control Of Border With Egypt.

The Palestinians takes control of an international frontier for the first time in their history, marking the day as a step on their road to statehood. PA Pres Mahmoud Abbas, said Palestinian control of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, formerly the hottest flashpoint of the conflict with Israel, was a victory for Palestinian steadfastness. The PA put on an impressive show, attended by senior EU, Egyptian and other Arab representatives, for what was essentially a symbolic occasion. The re-opening of the Rafah crossing, now under joint Palestinian-Egyptian control, will liberate 1.5m Gazans who have been virtually enclosed inside the territory in recent years. One 48-year-old man who had never left Gaza planned a trip to an Egyptian soccer league game. An assessment of the benefits of an internationally brokered agreement on the Palestinian economy nevertheless awaits implementation of a new regime for commercial border crossings elsewhere in Gaza. But Abbas said free movement for civilians was already an important step forward. "We will now say no to anyone who hinders our movement or tries to humiliate us". The transfer of control follows Israel's withdrawal of settlers and troops from Gaza this summer. In an agreement negotiated under the auspices of James Wolfensohn, representative of the international quartet - the US, EU, UN and Russia - Israel gave up access in and out of Rafah. For the time being, an EU police force will monitor PA security forces to ensure their work meets international norms. Gaza's two top Hamas officials, Mahmoud Zahar and Ismail Haniya, turned up for Nov 25 opening ceremony at which the EU was represented by Marc Otte, special representative in the Middle East. Palestinian officials said the political chiefs of the Islamic movement agreed to attend after they were talked out of plans to stage a demonstration against the border agreement. Hamas and Abbas' Fatah face each in general elections in January. Zahar said he was there to show his support for keeping Israeli occupiers out of Rafah, although Hamas was not happy with all aspects of the deal. If there were restrictions on movement, Hamas would "take further steps". Mohammad Dahlan, PA civil affairs minister, in what could be taken as a veiled warning to militant groups, said: This is an achievement of all the Palestinian factions and it is up to all to support this collective national achievement".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7PALE
Date:Nov 26, 2005
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