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Reuters: Egypt opens Gaza border after Israel ship clash

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(Reuters) – Egypt opened its border with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, letting Palestinians cross until further notice amid a storm of international criticism of Israel’s blockade of the enclave, officials in Egypt and Gaza said.

The move, urged by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas against whom the embargo has been directed, prompted dozens of people to race to the crossing point in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, though the gates appeared still to be closed.

It is the only point on Gaza’s borders that is not fully controlled by Israel. Cairo, coordinating with Israel, has opened it only sparingly since Hamas Islamists, who are allied to Egypt’s opposition, seized control of Gaza three years ago.

A permanent opening of the crossing, which lies above a stretch of desert frontier riddled by hundreds of smuggling tunnels, would be a major boost for Hamas and a blow to efforts by Israel and its Western allies to cripple the Islamists.

The Interior Ministry run by Hamas since it seized control of the Gaza Strip from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007 said in a statement: “Rafah crossing is open every day from 9 a.m. (0600 GMT) to 7 p.m.” Since Hamas took over, Egypt has opened the crossing only sporadically and with restrictions.

An Egyptian security source told Reuters: “Egypt opened its border with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to allow humanitarian and medical aid to enter the Strip.

“The border will remain open for an unlimited time,” the source said, letting Palestinians enter and leave Egypt.

Aid convoys, to which Egypt has in the past allowed only limited access, would be allowed to use the crossing, subject to following Cairo’s limitation that only food and medical supplies be transported.

“Hard materials” — apparently including concrete and steel which Gazans want to repair damage from last year’s Israeli offensive — would have to go via Israel, the Egyptian source said. Israel has made clear since it halted a Turkish-backed aid convoy at sea on Monday that it will not ease its embargo.

SHIP CRISIS

The deaths of nine activists when commandos stormed a Turkish ship in international waters have unleashed a storm of criticism of Israel. United Nations officials have demanded an end to the blockade, which has impoverished the 1.5 million people of the Gaza Strip. Israel’s main ally the United States has been more cautious in its response to the incident.

Hamas official Ghazi Hammad, who is in charge of borders for the Islamist government in Gaza, said: “The Rafah situation is now back to what it was before June 2006.”

He was referring to the month when Hamas and allied groups captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who remains a captive in Gaza and whose fate has been at the center of failed negotiations to ease the embargo imposed by Israel with Egyptian and international cooperation since then.

After Israel withdrew troop and settlers from Gaza in 2005, the European Union placed monitors at the Rafah crossing to reassure Israel that weapons would not reach Gaza from Egypt. That system of surveillance collapsed, and the blockade was tightened, when Hamas seized full control of Gaza in 2007.

Earlier on Tuesday, Hamas’s Syrian-based leader Khaled Meshaal said: “We call on our brothers in Egypt to use this historic moment to open Rafah crossing. Egypt is able to do this and that would indeed be a real response to Israel’s actions.”

Cairo has tried unsuccessfully to broker a reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah faction, as well as to mediate between Hamas and Israel. Hamas’s links to Egypt’s opposition Muslim Brotherhood has ensured its ties with Cairo are uneasy.

(Additional reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Port Said, writing by Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem)

Source: Reuters

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Amir (MR)

    June 1, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    Husni Mubarak has a heart after all.

  2. abu abdAllah Tariq Ahmed

    June 1, 2010 at 3:43 PM

    Most of the pro-Israeli news articles I saw immediately after the murderous attacks by the Israeli Navy on the defenseless peace flotilla made a point of stating the blockade was by Israel and Egypt both. And this article’s mention that concrete and steel would not be allowed to enter via Egypt’s gate makes it clear that there is only so much backbone in her leaders.

    That concrete and steel is needed to repair the homes and shops in the broken war zone that the Israeli tanks and bombs left behind on their last and even more heinous use of force. But the truth is that Israel does not want a viable Gaza. Israel wants Gazans to have food and medicine only so that the Israel’s occupation seem not have risen to the exact distinctions of Nazi death camps. Of course, stopping short of ovens and gas chambers is a poor excuse for Israelis to describe themselves as humanitarian, or to cry foul at comparisons of Gaza to the walled-off ghettos of Warsaw or the barbed-wire enclosed barracks of Auschwitz.

    While America engages in a debate over the use of force against civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, what Israel does to the civilians of Gaza and the West Bank is many orders of magnitude worse. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the military and the CIA drop bombs first and ask questions later. But Israel collectively punishes every man, woman, and child. And then claims to be mounting a massive humanitarian response when it lets a few children out for treatment (and bills the Palestinians for it, thank you very much). Never mind the damage to the infrastructure and resources of Gaza or the West Bank by Israel that makes it so impossible to receive adequate treatment by Palestinians.

    Imagine, long delays would be bad enough if Israel carefully inspected every aid shipment, and indeed it does so for every humanitarian shipment which is allowed and every shipment that is denied. But because of the tight list of what can go in, Israel uses one side of its face to protest that it does not deny aid to those it oppresses, and with the other side of its face it makes sure that the oppressed barely subsist and can only dream of freedom if they run away from their own land.

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