Rice announces Middle East deal

Israel and the Palestinians reached a deal on Gaza border crossings today, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced after personally overseeing a final round of all-night talks.

She hailed the deal as a “big step forward” for both sides. She said Israelis and Palestinians, bruised by nearly five years of bloody fighting, were learning to establish “patterns of co-operation”.

For the Palestinians, it was a major step toward independence, she said.

The agreement gives the Palestinians control over a border for the first time and provides a much-needed boost to the shattered Gaza economy.

It also marks an important breakthrough for the sides, who so far had failed to capitalise on the momentum created by the withdrawal.

The deal also strengthens Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ahead of January 25 parliament elections and could help him fend off a strong challenge by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Under the deal, the Gaza-Egypt border would open on November 25, allowing Palestinians to move in and out of Gaza for the first time without Israeli controls.

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