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Mideast envoy urges deal on Gaza
Updated: 2005-11-14 09:02

A top Mideast envoy warned Sunday that time is running out for Israel and the Palestinians to wrap up a deal on opening the Gaza Strip's border crossings, saying it would be a "tragedy" if an agreement was not reached soon.

The fate of the border crossings is one of the most important unresolved issues in the wake of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in September. Israel closed Gaza's border with Egypt shortly before the pullout and has restricted the movement of cargo into Israel, the main market for Palestinian goods.

The Palestinians say reopening the crossings is essential to rebuilding Gaza's shattered economy, especially with the harvest season approaching. Israel first wants assurances that weapons and militants will not enter Gaza.

James Wolfensohn, the international envoy who has brokered months of talks on the issue, met with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials late Sunday in hopes of breaking the impasse. The meeting ended without an agreement.

The meeting coincided with the arrival of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the region, and both Wolfensohn and Palestinian officials said they hoped her presence would help break the deadlock.

Mideast envoy urges deal on Gaza
International envoy James Wolfensohn, left, and Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs Mohammed Dahlan talk to the press after visiting the Karni crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel Sunday Nov. 13, 2005. [AP]
"I do believe that Secretary Rice is very keen to make sure that the deal is done," Wolfensohn said after a tour of the Karni crossing, the main transit point for cargo entering Israel. He reported progress in the talks but said a deal was far from certain.

"I think it will be a tragedy for both sides if that opportunity is not done, but can I give you a guarantee? No," Wolfensohn said.

In a speech in Jerusalem, Rice suggested that a quick solution is necessary.

"Greater freedom of movement is a key for Palestinians, from shopkeepers to farmers to restaurant owners and for all seeking early, easier access to their economic livelihood," she said. Rice also called on the Palestinians to crack down on militant groups.

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