Israel aims to reopen Gaza Strip crossing under EU supervision

But Israel is continuing to root out Palestinian militants in Gaza and the West Bank. An air strike yesterday killed a commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and another passenger as they drove through the Jabaliya refugee camp, north-east of Gaza City. Israel accused Hassan al-Madhoun, whose group is affiliated to the ruling Fatah party, of planning a suicide bombing at Ashdod port in 2004.

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, reiterated yesterday that he would not meet Mahmoud Abbas until the Palestinian President acted to disarm the militias. The Rafah negotiations are the only diplomatic contacts that survived last month's renewed wave of violence and counter-violence.

Israel suggested yesterday that the crossing could be open by the end of next month, but the Palestinians said there were still major differences to be resolved.

The Palestinian Authority has already asked the EU to send observers but Israel and Palestine disagree on the EU's role. Ghassan Hatib, who heads the Palestinian negotiating team, complained: "Things are not moving. The Israelis have not been forthcoming at all."

Israel has insisted that the EU observers should have "substantial enforcement capabilities" to prevent an influx of weapons and fighters. The Palestinians are resisting this demand, and the Europeans are still pondering how deeply they want to commit themselves.

Mr Hatib said: "The EU will be monitors. If they notice something is happening in violation of the agreements and the standards, then they will ask the Palestinians to correct things. We have no objection to their telling the Israelis everything, but we want the EU to play a confidence-building, not an enforcing, role."

Mark Regev, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, responded that it was the Palestinians themselves who talked about the limited capability of their security forces. "We have proposed an EU presence there to act as an auxiliary that would enable the Palestinians to do their job. We have to have a force there that can make sure that border security is what it should be."

The Palestinians have also rejected Israeli demands to monitor the crossing with sophisticated surveillance cameras. "This is tantamount to the Israelis still being there," said Mr Hatib.

The Palestinians have agreed that only holders of PA identity cards will be able to use the crossing and that goods will be able to leave Gaza, but not enter directly from Egypt. But Mr Hatib said that the Palestinians would not be bound by Israeli blacklists.

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