Abbas offers to hand Gaza border control to Hamas
GAZA, Apr 16 (Reuters) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has offered to hand control of the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt to the new government led by the militant group Hamas, officials said today.
Last Tuesday, special forces loyal to Abbas assumed control of the crossing, a move that heightened tensions between the president and Hamas, which took office on March 29.
''The discussions are still going on. Until now Hamas has not responded (to the offer),'' an aide to Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah told Reuters.
An official from Abbas's Fatah movement in Gaza said the president had sent a letter to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh which said border control would pass to Hamas. The official did not give a timeframe.
''The Hamas government will be held responsible if the crossing is blocked by Israel or if the European monitors take a decision to withdraw,'' the official said.
A Hamas source said a letter had been sent to Haniyeh's office.
European Union monitors working at the Rafah border crossing under a U.S.-brokered deal to assuage Israeli fears that foreign fighters and weapons could reach Gaza had previously said they were happy to see forces at the border answering directly to Abbas.
Abbas had been under international and Israeli pressure to take control of the Palestinian-run border away from the Hamas-led Interior Ministry after the group's crushing electoral win against the long-dominant Fatah in January.
Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction but has largely abided by a year-old truce with the Jewish state.
Since taking office, the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority has been under intense financial and diplomatic pressure from Israel, the United States and the EU.
REUTERS CH BST2241