Hamas is preventing the return of European monitors to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, despite an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority requiring their presence at the border.
“There is no need for their return, since they have forsaken the sick who died at the Rafah crossing and were in need of their intervention,” Maher Abu Sabha, Hamas’s director of the crossing, told the Al-Resalah news website on Sunday. He added that the Europeans have asked to return to Rafah following the ceasefire agreement reached between Israel and Hamas on November 21, which ended Operation Pillar of Defense.
The European Union Border Assistance Mission in Rafah (EUBAM Rafah) began operating at the Rafah crossing in November 2005, following Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip, as part of the Agreement on Movement and Access signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Under the agreement, EU monitors on the ground were complemented by a system of surveillance cameras, which broadcast the activity at the border to an Israeli control center at the Kerem Shalom border crossing. EUBAM was active at the Rafah crossing until June 2007, when Hamas violently took control of the Gaza Strip, ousting the PA presence there.
Today, EUBAM operates out of an office near Tel Aviv but, according to its website, it is “ready to re-engage at very short notice.”
However, Ismail al-Ashqar, a Hamas parliament member based in Gaza, said that will not happen any time soon.
“The Rafah crossing is a Palestinian-Egyptian crossing only, and there is no place for foreigners in it from now on,” Ashqar told Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV station on Monday. “Palestinians do not want to return to the past on the issue of Rafah’s land crossing. The European observers have left the crossing, never to return.”
Ashqar added that Hamas would only reconsider the European presence at the border if the EU pressured Israel to reopen Gaza’s seaport and airport, which has been inactive since October 2000.