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Borrell: EU foreign ministers greenlight Rafah border mission

The European Union Border Assistance Mission Rafah has not been operational since 2007, when Hamas violently took over Gaza.

The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza in January 2019. Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Shutterstock.
The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza in January 2019. Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Shutterstock.

European foreign ministers gave initial approval on Monday to send E.U. observers to the Rafah Border Crossing between the southern Gaza Strip and Egypt, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced.

Brussels seeks to revive the European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) Rafah, which has not been operational since 2007, when Hamas terrorists violently ousted the Palestinian Authority from Gaza.

“I have a green light from E.U. ministers to reactivate the Rafah border mission,” Borrell told reporters on Monday afternoon, adding that the initiative would need the support of Israel, Egypt and Palestinians.

“Today we can have a political decision and then it needs to be implemented technically,” Reuters cited Borrell as saying.

The mission would need approval from all 27 E.U. countries. It was not immediately clear what the role of a revived EUBAM would be. Diplomats have stressed that the decision is unlikely to be implemented before the end of the Israel Defense Forces operation in Rafah.

An Israeli official told Reuters that Jerusalem “has yet to consolidate a ‘day-after’ plan for Gaza, so there is no formal position on this initiative.”

“But it is worth remembering that the [Israeli] defense minister, in his Jan. 4 proposal, outlined a multinational force that would be one of the four prongs for managing Gaza once Hamas is defeated. An E.U. mission in Rafah could potentially dovetail with that,” the official added.

The IDF took control of the Gaza side of the Rafah Crossing on May 7. A day earlier, Israel’s War Cabinet decided unanimously to “continue the operation in Rafah to exert military pressure on Hamas in order to promote the release of our hostages and the other goals of the war.”

Two security sources in Cairo told the Reuters press agency earlier this month that Egypt has rejected an Israeli proposal to work together to reopen the Rafah border crossing and manage its operation jointly.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority has reportedly also rebuffed an offer from Jerusalem to help manage the border crossing, Hebrew media reported at the time, citing American government officials.

Egypt halted U.N. aid deliveries into Rafah after the Israeli military took control of the Gaza-Egypt border. Over the weekend, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi agreed during a telephone call with U.S. President Joe Biden to restore the flow of aid to Palestinians from Egypt.

However, those humanitarian supplies are entering the Strip through Israel’s Kerem Shalom Crossing and not through Rafah.

In a May 14 statement, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz placed the onus for averting a humanitarian crisis squarely on Cairo’s shoulders.

Katz said he had spoken with his British and German counterparts “about the need to persuade Egypt to reopen the Rafah Crossing to allow the continued delivery of international humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

The Israeli minister emphasized that Hamas terrorists cannot be allowed to control the crossing. “This is a security necessity on which we will not compromise,” he said. Most of Hamas’s weaponry and supplies enter the Strip via tunnels running under the Egypt-Gaza border.

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