Egypt opens border crossing with Gaza

Monday, May 30, 2011

Egyptian authorities reopened the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip on Saturday, allowing Palestinians unrestricted access out of the Strip for the first time since June 2007.

The opening of the crossing was one of the conditions of a peace agreement that Egypt and Palestinian political groups Hamas and Fatah agreed to last month. Under the new crossing rules, all Palestinian citizens except men between the ages of eighteen and forty will be able to pass through the border unrestricted, while men in that age range will have to possess a visa in order to enter Egypt. All people crossing the border are also required to have a Palestinian ID card. The crossing will be open daily except Fridays and holidays from 0900 to 2100 local time.

The last time there was an open crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt was prior to June 2007, when Hamas gained control of Gaza, and Egypt and Israel closed their borders in response. Since then, only about 300 people have been allowed through the Egyptian border each day, usually those in need of medical facilities and students.

The crossing will allow only people through; no commercial traffic will be permitted and everyone who passes through will be searched.

Israel has raised concerns about the opening of the border, claiming that weapons will be smuggled through. The country's vice prime minister, Silvan Shalom said that the opening of the border "is a dangerous development that could lead to weapons and al-Qaida smuggling in Gaza."

A spokesperson from Hamas called the opening of the crossing "a courageous and responsible decision which falls in line with Palestinian and Egyptian public opinion." He said that Hamas hopes "it is a step towards the complete lifting of the siege on Gaza."

An Egyptian government spokesperson, Menha Bakhoum, said that the decision to open the crossing was made in order to "ease the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip."