Summit plans shelved over Gaza border row

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The Independent Online

A planned Israeli-Palestinian summit has been shelved amid disputes about the future of Gaza's border crossing with Egypt.

Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, cancelled plans to meet today after preliminary contacts failed to produce the concessions Mr Abbas had been seeking.

While both sides indicated the summit would still go ahead, PA sources said yesterday that Mr Abbas had been reluctant to hold a meeting which might give a false appearance of progress ahead of talks with President George Bush in Washington on 20 October.

In particular the PA wants Israel to agree to the reopening of the Egyptian border crossing at Rafah, at least for outgoing goods and people and for incoming Palestinians with Israeli-approved identity cards.

The Palestinians have also been pressing for at least 20 out of more than 100 Palestinians who have been in Israeli prisons since before the Oslo accords over a decade ago to be released. Israel has yet to relax its bar on the release of "prisoners with blood on their hands".

The Palestinian leadership, which regards the Rafah crossing as vital for the Strip's economy, has said it is willing for a third party to have a security presence at the crossing.

Israel wants the goods and people to pass through a planned terminal at Kerem Shalom, where the borders of Israel, Gaza and Egypt meet. However, Mr Abbas is hoping to persuade President Bush to put pressure on Israel to reopen Rafah as the first step towards to giving Gaza residents and their produce better access to the outside world.