Rafah border crossing can't reopen unless Israeli forces quit Gaza side, Egypt says

DUBAI (Reuters) - The Rafah border crossing critical to aid deliveries into Gaza from Egypt cannot operate again unless Israel relinquishes control and hands it back to Palestinians on the Gaza side, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Monday.

Last month, Israel seized Gaza's entire border with Egypt including the crossing during its offensive against Hamas in the city of Rafah. The crossing also represents the only lifeline to the outside world for the 2.3 million population in the Israeli-besieged territory.

"It is difficult for the Rafah crossing to continue operating without a Palestinian administration," Shoukry told a press conference with his Spanish counterpart in Madrid.

Shoukry said the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty remained "a solid base for security and stability in the region and everyone must consider and take measures responsibly to preserve this important treaty".

His comments came amid rising tensions after the death of an Egyptian soldier last week in an exchange of fire with Israeli forces who Egyptian security sources said crossed a boundary line while pursuing and killing several Palestinians.

Two Egyptian security sources said a meeting on Sunday of U.S., Egyptian and Israeli officials was positive despite there being no agreement on reopening of the crossing. Egypt's delegation at the meeting said it would be open to European monitors at the border to oversee its operation by Palestinian authorities if Palestinian authorities agreed to resume work.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Sunday Israeli forces were seeking to destroy tunnels between Gaza and Egypt used by Hamas to smuggle in weapons, or possibly as a means to escape the war. Egypt has denied the existence of such tunnels.

Under their peace treaty, Egypt and Israel have cooperated closely on security issues around the borders between Israel, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Gaza. They jointly upheld a blockade of Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

Shoukry also called for Hamas and Israel to accept the current proposal for a Gaza ceasefire presented by U.S. President Joe Biden, saying that Hamas' initial comments were positive. "We are now waiting for the Israeli response," he said.

An aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday Israel had accepted the framework deal for winding down the Gaza war, but described it as flawed and in need of much more work.

(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah and Clauda Tanios; editing by Aidan Lewis and Mark Heinrich)