Mitchell: Open Borders Will Prevent Smuggling
Following a meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday, newly-appointed American Middle East envoy George Mitchell called for open crossings into Gaza and greater Fatah involvement there.
Talking to reporters after his discussions with Fatah leader Abbas and other PA officials, Mitchell said, "To be successful in preventing the illicit traffic of arms into Gaza, there must be a mechanism to allow the flow of legal goods. And that should be with the participation of the [Fatah-controlled] Palestinian Authority."
Fatah is the faction currently heading the Judea and Samaria half of the Authority, while the more jihadist Hamas controls the Gaza half of the PA. Hamas initially took legislative power in a landslide in PA-wide elections, and later carried out a successful coup in Gaza in order to obtain absolute control there.
The U.S. envoy further called for "a sustainable and durable ceasefire" between Hamas and Israel. Mitchell added that he had expressed to Abbas President Barack Obama's "deep concern over the killing of the Palestinians and the humanitarian situation in Gaza." The President is also committed to a Palestinian State and "lasting peace", according to Mitchell.
While Abbas did not address the media following his meeting with Mitchell, senior PA representative Saeb Erekat told journalists that the PA chairman discussed "humanitarian aid to Gaza, the importance of the truce, opening the crossings and lifting the blockade of Gaza." Abbas also claimed that "continued construction of Israeli settlements, creating facts on the ground... and construction of the wall are an attempt to separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip," according to Erekat. He added that Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza harmed the chances for peace in the region.
Touching on another matter, Erekat said that Abbas told Mitchell of his eagerness to form a unified regime with Hamas. Due to the American boycott of Hamas, which it officially recognizes as a terrorist entity, Mitchell is not going to visit Gaza during his current Middle Eastern tour.
Mitchell met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday, after meetings in Egypt. He also met with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. On Friday, Mitchell is scheduled to meet with Knesset opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu.