RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) – With Palestinians facing severe shortages of bread, milk and other foods in Gaza, U.S. officials called an emergency meeting Sunday and brokered a compromise with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in a two-month-old border standoff.

Ambassador Richard Jones said cargo traffic might start flowing as soon as today at one crossing, and a Palestinian official said a second crossing would be discussed at meetings today.

But Palestinian economic misery might take another hit after Hamas militants sworn to Israel’s destruction presented their new Cabinet to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday. The Islamic group’s failure to bring moderate forces into its government is likely to strengthen Western resolve to cut off desperately needed aid.

The vital Karni cargo crossing between Israel and Gaza has been closed for most of the past two months, shutting off almost all exports and imports for the poverty-stricken seaside territory. Palestinians charge Israel is punishing them for Hamas’ election victory, but Israel insists it is keeping the crossing shut because of warnings of terror attacks.

The lengthy closure has led to shortages of flour, milk and other goods, and bakeries are closing, United Nations workers said.

Jones invited Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to his residence Sunday to find a way to avert a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He said later there was an agreement to open another crossing, Kerem Shalom at the convergence of Gaza, Israel and Egypt.

“We have agreed that the crossing from Kerem Shalom will open tomorrow for imports of food and other essential humanitarian products from Egypt,” and details would be worked out Monday, Jones told reporters.

Jones did not mention Karni, but Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said a solution also was emerging for activating that crossing and he was hopeful it could be resolved in two meetings scheduled for Monday.

“I hope they will succeed in allowing goods to come into Gaza as of tomorrow to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza,” he told The Associated Press. He said Egyptian trucks were already lining up across from Kerem Shalom.

Israeli negotiator Amos Gilad demanded that Palestinians arrest militants before the Karni crossing is reopened, Israeli officials said.

Under an agreement brokered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in November, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to boost cargo traffic through the crossing. The accord was meant to give momentum to peace efforts and economic recovery programs after Israel’s summer pullout from Gaza.

But the Karni deal was never implemented, and Israel has closed the crossing for long periods, citing security concerns.

During Karni’s closure, Israel offered to open Kerem Shalom, 25 miles south of Karni, as an alternative crossing. But the Palestinians had rejected that up to now, saying it is too small and is completely inside Israeli territory.

“We’d like Karni to be fully functioning as soon as possible … The only reason Karni is closed is the definite terror warnings,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. “We don’t understand why the Palestinians refuse to have the Kerem Shalom crossing open to bring in required and needed produce into Gaza.”

On Sunday evening, incoming Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met Abbas to present his new Cabinet, which includes one woman and one Christian.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Haniyeh said the Cabinet would have 24 members, 10 from Gaza and 14 from the West Bank. Fellow Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar will be the new foreign minister, he said.

Abbas said he would submit the list to the PLO executive committee and then to parliament if it approves. Before the meeting, he said he would review the names but would not decide immediately whether to accept the list. As president, he has the authority to demand changes.

Haniyeh was optimistic his Cabinet would win approval. “I can say that the indications are positive toward constitutional stability on the Palestinian platform,” he said.

Abbas, who favors negotiating a final peace settlement with Israel, has urged Hamas to moderate its violent ideology but likely will approve the Cabinet, his aides say. He will, however, warn Hamas that its refusal to soften its positions could hurt the Palestinians’ international standing.

Hamas failed to form a coalition with more moderate parties that could have helped soften its hardline image.

The United States and European Union have threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians if Hamas does not renounce violence, recognize Israel and promise to honor existing peace agreements.

The group, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, has rejected those conditions.

Last week a World Bank report warned of economic disaster in Gaza if aid is cut off.

Haniyeh, a top Hamas official in Gaza, had not announced his Cabinet lineup. But Hamas officials said privately the group would keep the top three posts – foreign affairs, finance and interior, which oversees some security forces. Professionals would fill some of the other posts.

Abbas was elected separately last year to a four-year term and wields considerable authority. He cannot impose his own Cabinet lineup on Hamas, however, because it controls an absolute majority in the legislature.

AP-ES-03-19-06 1621EST


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