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Egypt intends to open Gaza border permanently

Source : Al Arabiya
Cairo | 02 May 2011

Egypt intends to open its border with Gaza permanently to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians under an Israeli blockade but the mechanics of such a step are still being worked out, the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

The initiative suggests a further policy shift since the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak, whose government cooperated with Israel in enforcing a blockade on the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Israel and its patron, the United States, look upon Hamas as a terrorist organization.

7remain open with the supervision of European Union monitors.

But it has remained largely shut since June 2006 when Israel imposed a tight blockade on Gaza after Hamas fighters snatched Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.

At present it is open irregularly and passage is available mostly for Palestinians who can prove humanitarian need from the area of about 1.5 million Palestinians.

That system has broadly stayed in place since Mr. Mubarak was pushed out on Feb. 11.

“The intention is there to open it on a permanent basis to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians, but all the mechanics on how it is going to work are under study,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Menha Bakhoum told Reuters.

She said the issue was being studied “at all levels” but did not say when this might be implemented.

Egypt has brokered a reconciliation deal between Palestinian factions, which was signed last week, and Cairo has signaled it is ready for closer ties with Iran; after a gap of 30 years, Egypt and Iran resumed diplomatic relations last week.

Analysts say the new rulers in Cairo are shifting policy away from the Mubarak era, in part to gain credibility amongst a largely pro-Palestinian population.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby last week called the blockade on Gaza “disgraceful,” and said that Egypt would look into ways to open the border in 10 days.

Ms. Bakhoum, in comments carried by the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, said the 10 days Mr. Elaraby referred to was the period Egypt needed to study the mechanisms to open the border.

Ms. Bakhoum also said in comments reported by Al-Ahram that reviewing policies after an uprising that toppled Mr. Mubarak did not mean Cairo would stop honoring international commitments—a reference to its 1979 peace treaty with Israel

Israel reacted to the news by saying it was “worried” by the plan to imminently reopen the Rafah border crossing,

“It’s a worrying development... The reopening of the Rafah crossing could allow the passage of arms and terrorists and we must prepare for important changes both in Egypt and at the regional level,” Israeli vice prime minister Silvan Shalom told public radio.

Mr. Elaraby also called on the United States to recognize a Palestinian state, as rival Palestinian factions prepare to sign the reconciliation accord in Cairo.

Mr. Elaraby urged visiting US Congressman Steve Chabot to “press Congress and the American administration to recognize a Palestinian state.”

Recognition “would correspond with previous statements by the American administration supporting peace based on two states,” Egypt’s official MENA news agency quoted him as saying.

Mr. Elaraby, who held talks on the Arab-Israeli conflict with Mr. Chabot, also called on the US to “exert efforts to hold an international Middle East peace conference,” MENA said.

President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and its bitter foe Hamas have agreed to form a government that would prepare for elections in a year.

US President Barack Obama’s administration re-launched direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in September 2010, only to see them grind to a halt three weeks later over Israel’s settlements construction in the West Bank.

 

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