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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Egypt opening border with Gaza 'indefinitely'

Egypt has decided to open its border with Gaza 'indefinitely' after President Mubarak met US Vice President Joe Biden on Monday.
After three years of co-operating in the Israeli blockade of Gaza, Egypt said that it will leave its border with the Palestinian territory open indefinitely for humanitarian aid and restricted travel.

With international pressure building to ease the blockade, an Egyptian security official said on Monday that sealing off Hamas-ruled Gaza has only bred more militancy.

The decision to ease the restrictions erected by Israel to isolate and punish Hamas comes a week after a deadly Israeli raid on a flotilla bound for Gaza. The move restores a link to the outside world for at least some of Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians. It also appeared calculated to defuse anger in the Arab and Muslim world over Egypt's role in maintaining the blockade and to show that Egypt, too, is now pressing Israel to open at least its land crossings with Gaza.
But the border still won't be open completely.
Egypt's new measures constitute an incremental change rather than a radically different approach to the border closure, in part because Egypt does not want to end up bearing sole responsibility for large-scale Gaza aid operations.

For the time being, Egypt is only allowing a restricted group of Gazans to leave the territory, including medical patients, students attending foreign universities and those with residency abroad. In nearly a week, thousands of Gazans have left and 500 tons of medical supplies were trucked in. It has done so before, sporadically and for a period limited to two or three days.

Egypt will not transfer large cargo shipments or construction material because the border crossing is designed primarily for travellers, the security official said. One such convoy, organized by Egypt's Islamic opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, was stopped Monday before it got close to the border.

And while it eases movement at the crossing in the border town of Rafah, Egypt is intensifying its efforts to stop a thriving smuggling trade through hundreds of tunnels under the border. Those passages have been Gaza's key economic lifeline but have also been a pathway for weapons.

Egypt late last year began building an underground, metal barrier to seal the smuggling tunnels, and the security official said Egypt hoped to finish that work in the next few months.
All of which means the pressure on Israel will continue.

What could go wrong?


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