Israel sets international border with Gaza

Date: 09-21-05

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel declared its frontier with the Gaza Strip an international border on Wednesday, formally setting part of a boundary for the first time with an eventual Palestinian state.

Israeli Interior Minister Ofer Pines-Paz called the measure, which he signed, "a first step to civilianise the passages and to turn them into borders" between Israel and Gaza after Israel completed a military pullout from the territory on September 12.

Sabine Haddad, a ministry spokeswoman, said Pines had turned four crossing points between Gaza and Israel into official border crossings. "For Israel this is now an international border," he said.

Israelis and foreign nationals will now need a passport to move between Israel and all parts of Gaza, and will fill out border entry forms rather than military documents as they had before, Haddad said.

But she said the few Palestinians allowed into Israel for jobs or medical care would not need a passport to do so, and would still require security permits.

Palestinians, who dispute Israel's efforts to retain control over Gaza's key border crossings for now after declaring an end to 38 years of military rule there, dismissed the Israeli measure to set a border as premature.

"I don't think we can classify it legally as an international border now because Gaza is not free of occupation," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

"I think international borders will be agreed once we finish permanent status negotiations on borders," he said.

Palestinians are also unhappy that Israel, citing security needs, is keeping control over Gaza's sea lanes and air space.

Israel has closed Gaza's border crossing with Egypt for the next six months while discussions continue for possible international monitoring by a third party. Israel says it wants to prevent militants from smuggling weapons into the strip.

A U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, endorsed by Israel and the Palestinians, calls for eventual Palestinian statehood in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Some 1.4 million Palestinians live in Gaza and 2.4 million in the West Bank.

Israel says it will resume peace talks only if Palestinians disarm militant groups bent on its destruction. Palestinians accuse Israel of delaying tactics to strengthen its hold on Jewish settlements in the West Bank that Israel wants to keep.



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