Top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Eriqat, pressed Thursday for operating the Rafah crossing terminal regularly, urging the international community to pressure the Israeli government for that end.

In his meeting in Jericho with representatives of the World Bank and the European Union, Eriqat stressed that the terminal should resume working normally as stated in the crossing agreement signed in November 2005.

“The closure by Israel of the Rafah crossing terminal for almost 80% of its working days is part of the collective punishment Israel has been practicing against our people”, Eriqat told the international officials.

The Palestinian chief believed that the security allegations Israel has been claiming, are baseless, making clear that the closure of Gaza’s main outlet to the outside world has been involved with the abduction in Gaza of Israeli soldier Gil’ad Shalit.

Eriqat confirmed that he sent out a message to the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, asking for possibly extending the mandate of the EU’s observers mission at the crossing, which supposedly ends in May2007.

Rafah crossing terminal, the main outlet to the outside world of 1.4 million Palestinians, has been opened for just one fifth of its working days since the abduction of Israeli soldier Gila’ad Shalit by some resistance groups in Gaza in June 2006.

The World Bank has recently released a report, calling for normal operation of the Rafah terminal to avoid further humanitarian difficulties for the Palestinian population. In November 2005 Palestinians, Israelis and Europeans, under U.S mediation, agreed to run the Rafah crossing on routine basis, while European observers would monitor movement of Palestinians in and out of the costal strip. .