Friday, April 29, 2011

Egypt to Open Gaza Border as Israel Cites Concern Over Hamas


Egypt plans to open its border crossing with the Gaza Strip, possibly within the next two weeks, the Foreign Ministry said, as Israel expressed concern over its neighbor’s ties with Hamas, which rules the territory.

“We’ll open the crossing point for individuals in a continuous way,” Menha Bakhoum, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said in an interview today. “The details are still being worked out.”

Egypt has cooperated with Israel to impose a blockade on Gaza that Israel says is necessary to prevent Hamas and other Islamist groups from importing weapons that could be used against the Jewish state. The policy, implemented by former President Hosni Mubarak, has been unpopular in Egypt and was one of the targets of the protest movement that forced Mubarak out of office in February.

A senior Israeli official, speaking anonymously because the issues are being pursued in diplomatic channels, said Israel is concerned that Egypt is upgrading its ties with Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.

Israel is also concerned about signs of a rapprochement between Egypt and Iran, which backs Hamas, and about increasing calls in Egypt for the abrogation of a peace treaty with Israel signed in 1979, the Israeli official said.

On Feb. 11, the day Mubarak stepped down, Hamas called on any new Egyptian government to reopen the Rafah border crossing and help Palestinians end the blockade.

Hamas-Fatah Accord

Egypt’s transitional military-led government this week brokered an agreement between Hamas and its rival, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas, to end a division lasting almost four years, create a unified administration and pave the way for Palestinian elections.

The accord follows protests in March in which thousands of Palestinians, inspired by the popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, called for national unity.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil el-Arabi said last month that the country is ready to “open a new page” with Iran, with which it hasn’t had full diplomatic relations since 1979, after the overthrow of Mubarak. Iran hopes to “witness further expansion of relations,” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in response.

Israel and Egypt maintained a blockade on Gaza since Hamas ousted Abbas’s forces and took over running the territory in 2007, after it won Palestinian parliamentary elections the previous year.

Goods Shortages

The blockade cut off most civilian traffic and restricted trade with the territory, whose residents say they face shortages in some goods as a result.

Last month Israel’s navy boarded an Egypt-bound ship and found weapons that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said were sent by Iran and intended for “terrorist forces” in the Gaza Strip. Israel came under international criticism a year ago after a naval commando raid on an aid flotilla headed for Gaza left nine Turkish citizens dead.

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, declined to comment today on Egypt’s plan to open the Rafah border crossing.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mariam Fam in Cairo at; Maram Mazen in Khartoum at; Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at

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