21st Mar 2018

EU Gaza mission set to depart with limited mandate

An EU mission consisting of around 60 policemen and customs officials will start work at the Gaza-Egypt border next week, but the EU monitors will have no active enforcement role, EU diplomats say.

EU officials told EUobserver that the EU border mission is scheduled to start on 23 November and that it will consist of both policemen and customs officials.

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The news comes after the announcement by US foreign secretary Condoleezza Rice earlier on Tuesday (15 November) that Israel and the Palestinians reached a deal on the management of the Rafah border crossing.

The deal includes a "third party" monitoring role at Rafah for the EU, constituting the first real security mission of the bloc in the Middle East.

According to Israel, the crossing between Gaza and Egypt is characterised by weapons smuggling and uncontrolled passage of Palestinian fighters, since Jerusalem pulled out of Gaza this summer.

Diplomats said the EU team will be of "civilian nature" and consist of a mix of member states' policemen and customs officials, headed by an Italian "carabinieri" military police general.

The mandate of the EU operation, as enshrined in the Israeli-Palestinian deal, will be restricted.

The EU will "monitor" Palestinian compliance with the agreement struck with the Israelis, rather than "inspect" the border itself, diplomats said.

In case of non-compliance by Palestinian border forces, the EU monitors will only be able to ask the Palestinians to "reassess" the control of a certain person or item, but not to take over any executive tasks themselves.

"In no case will we replace the Palestinians," one EU diplomat said.

The role of the EU mission is in line with wishes expressed earlier by the Palestinians, who had sought a "monitoring" rather than enforcing role for the EU in the run-up to the border deal.

But the EU mandate corresponds less well with Israeli demands, which aimed at giving the Europeans "enforcement capabilities" themselves, taking over powers from the Palestinians.

The EU intends to have an "initial presence" only on the scheduled opening date of the border crossing point on 23 November, diplomats said.

The mission will be expanded to its full strength afterward.

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