The European Union has agreed to extend its mission on the Gaza-Egypt
border crossing for additional six months, EU officials stated on
Tuesday.

 
The decision came after EU Foreign Ministers approved a six-month extension of its monitoring mission at the Rafah Border Crossing in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. The mission, composed on some 70 monitors, was initially sent to Gaza to monitor the crossing in November 2005 following the implementation of the Gaza Pullout Plan.

During a regular meeting for the EU Foreign  Ministers on Monday, the EU approved a six-month extension of their monitoring mission. The meeting was held on Monday in Brussels. According to the decision, the monitoring mission will remain at the crossing until May 24, 2007.
 
Although the Palestinians “technically” control the crossing, Israel can shut it off at any given time; this year, Israel closed the crossing several times and for extended periods after it claimed that it was topped of threats by Palestinian fighters.

Several residents, including at least one child and one elderly, died after being stranded at the crossing.

The EU repeatedly warned that the Israeli restrictions on the Crossing would lead to the withdrawal of its observers.

After deciding to extend the mission, EU ministers decided to call on Israel to “do its utmost efforts to ensure that the crossing will not be closed”.

EU officials had earlier warned that the European monitors could be withdrawn from Rafah at the end of their mandate amid concerns about Israeli restrictions.

More than 300,000 persons have passed through the crossing since the EU monitoring mission began, an EU official said.

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