Israel agreed Wednesday to allow the crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip to reopen with the deployment of foreign monitors, a step toward easing the strip's isolation following the completion of the Israeli withdrawal last month.
After meeting in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Egyptian and Palestinian officials could reopen the Rafah crossing to people moving between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula. There was no announcement on what country would provide a monitoring delegation, but the European Union has offered inspectors for the task, which is still being defined.
The agreement comes as pressure mounts on Israel to ease restrictions along Gaza's borders, part of a campaign to improve economic prospects and give Palestinians in Gaza a greater sense of independence now that Israel's 38-year presence has ended. James Wolfensohn, a special Middle East envoy, recently criticized Israel for delaying discussion of the Rafah crossing until after Jewish holidays earlier this month.
Israeli officials say security concerns, which Wolfensohn called "very real," are prompting them to move cautiously on the issue. The two crossings between Gaza and Israel were reopened Wednesday after being shut periodically over the last month because of sporadic rocket attacks.
The agreement on the Gaza-Sinai border will allow only people, not cargo, to pass through the Rafah crossing, and Israel will be allowed to monitor those who do so by camera. Cargo will move through an Israeli-monitored terminal at Kerem Shalom, a few miles to the east where the borders of Israel, Egypt and Gaza converge.