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Editorial Note: The following news reports are summaries from original sources. They may also include corrections of Arabic names and political terminology. Comments are in parentheses.

 

Egypt Reopens its Border with Palestinian Gaza Strip, After 4 Years of Israeli-Led Siege 

Gaza businessmen applaud Rafah opening

Published today (updated) 29/05/2011 15:28

GAZA CITY (Ma'an) --

The federation of businessmen in Gaza applauded on Saturday Egypt's decision to permanently open its Rafah border with the coastal enclave.

Head of the federation's board of directors Ali Al-Hayik told Ma'an he telephoned Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority Yasser Othman to thank him for pushing through the policy change, following years of restrictions.

Egypt reopened the Rafah crossing on Saturday, allowing most Palestinians to cross freely for the first time in four years. Men between the ages of 18-40 are the only group which must secure visas before passing out of the area.

The opening of the crossing has given Gazans a gateway to the world as Rafah is the only crossing which does not pass through Israel.

The businessman said the free movement of people in and out of the Gaza Strip would facilitate renewed efforts for the reconstruction of infrastructure and homes destroyed in Israel's massive assault on Gaza in December 2008. Palestinian political factions, who signed a unity deal in Cairo in 4 May ending a bitter five-year split, are currently focused on putting in place mechanisms for the rebuilding of the Strip.

Al-Hayil said Egypt's new policy reflected the post-revolution administration's will to create a positive atmosphere for the Palestinian reconciliation agreement.

Hundreds of Palestinians crossed the border on Saturday, some of whom had waited for four years to leave the enclave.

According to an official in charge of administrative procedures on the Palestinian side of the terminal, "the process is going without a hitch, and we are providing the facilities for travelers to pass quickly and comfortably."

On the Egyptian side, an official said: "We are going to do everything possible to ease the passage of our Palestinian brothers, and we hope procedures will be simplified further in due course."

Al-Hayik urged Egyptian authorities to continue the reforms at the crossing and introduce special measures for Gaza businessmen to encourage investment in the coastal enclave. His comments came days after a $1 billion investment fund was announced by officials in the Palestine Investment Fund, who visited Gaza for the first time in four years.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Al-Arabi had announced in April that the crossing would reopen permanently, stressing this would help ease the blockade imposed by Israel.

The border has remained largely shut since June 2006 when Israel imposed a tight blockade on Gaza after Palestinian militants snatched Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.

The blockade was tightened a year later when the Islamist movement Hamas seized control of the territory, ousting forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

The United Nations has called the blockade illegal and repeatedly demanded it be lifted.

The decision to permanently reopen the Rafah crossing came more than three months after former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned under pressure following 18 days of massive street protests against his rule.

It was hailed by Hamas and the European Union, but Israel has greeted the news with trepidation.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said on Thursday the move was "a courageous and responsible decision which falls in line with Palestinian and Egyptian public opinion."

The European Union said it was in consultations with Egypt, the Palestinians and Israel about returning its team of advisers to monitor activity along the frontier.

But Israel expressed concern, with Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai telling public radio it would create "a very problematic situation."

AFP contributed to this report.

Gaza gets gateway to the world

Egypt lifts four-year blockade on Rafah post bringing relief to 1.5m Palestinians

By Nasser Al-Najjar,

Al-Khaleej, Correspondent

Published: 00:00 May 29, 2011

Image Credit: AP Palestinian Mohammed Ahmed, reacts as he holds his father's passport at the Egyptian passport administration at Rafah crossing port. Egypt officially and fully reopened its passenger crossing with Gaza at the town of Rafah, after a long period of restrictions aimed at isolating the Hamas militant group that rules the Palestinian coastal strip.

Gaza: Hundreds of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip flocked to enter Egypt via the Rafah border crossing as it reopened Saturday after a four-year closure.

Among the first to cross the coastal enclave's only border post not controlled by Israel were two ambulances ferrying patients from the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip for treatment in Egypt, as well as a bus carrying 50 visitors.

"I never took a vacation before. The only time I left Gaza was for medical reasons. I had to pay a lot of money to the Egyptian police and it was very humiliating," Mohammad Abd Al A'al told Gulf News.

Egypt lifted a four-year-old blockade on the Gaza Strip's main link to the outside world Saturday, bringing relief to the crowded territory's 1.5 million Palestinians but deepening a rift with Israel since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

The Egyptian move will allow thousands of Gazans to move freely in and out of the area that has been under prison-like siege for years.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007. The closure, which also included tight Israeli restrictions at its cargo crossings with Gaza and a naval blockade, was meant to weaken Hamas, but it also fuelled an economic crisis in the densely populated territory.

First bus

Hundreds of Gazans gathered early Saturday as the first busload of passengers crossed the border at 9am. Two Egyptian officers stood guard next to a large Egyptian flag atop the border gate as the vehicle rumbled through.

Rami Arafat, 52, was among the earliest arrivals. "All we need is to travel like humans, be treated with dignity, and feel like any other citizens of the world who can travel freely," Arafat said. Nearby, 28-year-old Khalid Halaweh said he was headed to Egypt to study engineering at Alexandria University.

"The closure did not affect only the travel of passengers or the flow of goods. Our brains and our thoughts were under blockade," said Halaweh, who said he hadn't been out of Gaza for seven years.

UAE calls for state on 1967 borders

The UAE called on the members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to work towards the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders so that Palestine can take its seat at the next session of the UN General Assembly.

Addressing the 16th NAM ministerial meeting in Bali on Friday, Dr Saeed Mohammad Al Shamsi, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organisation Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said peace will never prevail in the Middle East as long as the Palestinians are denied the right to establish their state on borders that existed on June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Al Shamsi said permanent peace requires Israel's withdrawal from all the occupied Arab lands including Golan Heights and the occupied lands of Lebanon.

In a joint statement, NAM ministers "reaffirmed the long-standing international consensus recognising the Palestinian people as a nation and recognising their inalienable right to self-determination".

with inputs from WAM

Egypt permanently opens Rafah border crossing with Gaza

CAIRO, May 28, 2011 (Xinhua) --

The Egyptian authorities permanently opened the Rafah border crossing with the sieged Gaza Strip on Saturday, allowing the free passage of travellers for the first time in four years.

The border crossing will open from 9 a.m. (0600 GMT) to 5 p.m. (1400 GMT) everyday except for Fridays and national holidays, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported.

Opening the border comes in line with the Egyptian efforts to end the Palestinian division and fully implement the Palestinian national reconciliation.

The decision will allow Palestinians in the enclave to enter and exit their territory freely and stipulate an visa exemption for women in all ages and men under 18 or over 40 years old, as well as those who enter Egypt for study.

New trends and approaches manifested in the Egyptian foreign diplomacy after Hosni Mubarak's government was toppled. "Egypt's decision to permanently open its border crossing with Hamas-ruled Gaza starting on Saturday signals an adjustment in its foreign policy that will boost the group despite Israeli objections," local newspaper Daily News reported Saturday.

Editor: Xiong Tong

After 4 Years, Egypt Reopens its Border with Gaza

May 28, 4:14 PM EDT

By IBRAHIM BARZAK Associated Press

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) --

Egypt lifted a 4-year-old blockade of the Gaza Strip on Saturday, greatly easing travel restrictions on the 1.5 million residents of the Palestinian territory in a move that bolstered the Hamas government while dealing a setback to Israel's attempts to isolate the militant group.

The sense of relief was palpable as buses piled high with luggage crossed the Rafah border terminal and hundreds of people traveled abroad for overdue medical appointments, business dealings and family affairs. In Israel, fears were heightened that militants and weapons will soon pour into the territory.

"I was so happy to hear that the Egyptian border is opening so I can finally travel for treatment," said Mohammad Zoarob, a 66-year-old suffering from chronic kidney disease.

He said he had been waiting for a medical permit from the Palestinian health ministry for five years so he could go to Egypt for treatment. When Palestinian officials coincidentally approved the permit on Saturday, he kissed his family goodbye, rushed to the border and was quickly whisked across.

"They put me in an ambulance and in five minutes I reached the Egyptian side of the crossing," he said.

Saturday's expansion of the Rafah crossing was a tangible benefit of the popular unrest sweeping through the Arab world. The blockade, which has fueled an economic crisis in Gaza, is deeply unpopular among Arabs, and Egypt's caretaker leaders had promised to end it since the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007. The closure aimed to weaken Hamas. But the Iranian-backed group remains firmly in power, operating the border crossing even at a time when it is supposed to be reconciling with the rival Fat'h movement.

Until Saturday, the Rafah border terminal had functioned at a limited capacity. Only certain classes of people, such as students, businessmen or medical patients, were eligible to travel and the crossing was often subject to closures, leading to huge backlogs that forced people to wait for months.

Under the new system, virtually anyone can travel, and a much larger number of Palestinians are expected to be able to cross each day.

Hundreds of Gazans gathered early Saturday as the first bus load of passengers crossed the border at 9 a.m. Two Egyptian officers stood guard next to a large Egyptian flag atop the border gate as the vehicle rumbled through. One after another buses crossed Rafah, pulling blue carts behind them with luggage piled high.

"All we need is to travel like humans, be treated with dignity and feel like any other citizens of the world who can travel in and out freely," said Rami Arafat, 52, who hoped to catch a flight out of Cairo on Sunday to attend his daughter's wedding in Algeria.

Nearby, 28-year-old Khaled Halaweh said he was headed to Egypt to study for a master's degree in engineering at Alexandria University.

"The closure did not affect only the travel of passengers or the flowing of goods. Our brains and our thoughts were under blockade," said Halaweh, who said he hadn't been out of Gaza for seven years.

Inside the border terminal Saturday, the atmosphere was orderly, as Hamas police called passengers one by one to register their travel documents.

By the close of operation at 5 p.m., 410 people had crossed into Egypt, said Salama Baraka, head of police at the Rafah terminal, well above the daily average of about 300 in recent months.

Thirty-nine were turned back because they did not have the proper visas or travel documents, Baraka said. Israeli media quoted Egyptian officials as saying some were also on Egyptian "terror lists." In the past, Egypt had rejected passengers found to be on "blacklists." An additional 150 people crossed from Egypt into Gaza.

With the crossing now operating six days a week, officials hope to raise the daily number of travelers to 1,000. Baraka said ten thousand people are registered to travel between June and August 25.

"Today is a cornerstone for a new era that we hope will pave the road to ending the siege and blockade on Gaza," said Hatem Awideh, director general of the Hamas border authority in Gaza. "We hope this facilitation by our Egyptian brothers will improve travel and will allow everyone to leave Gaza."

About 100 Palestinians marched with Palestinian and Egyptian flags outside the border terminal in a gesture of gratitude to Egypt.

"This courageous step by Egypt reflects the deep historic relations between the Palestinian and Egyptian nations," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahri.

The new system will not resolve Gazans' travel woes completely, though.

Men between the ages of 18 and 40 still will have to obtain Egyptian visas, a process that can take months. Women, children and older men must get travel permits, which can be obtained in several days.

Israel, which controls Gaza's cargo crossings, allows most consumer goods into Gaza, but still restricts exports as well as the entry of much-needed construction materials. Israel also enforces a naval blockade aimed at weapons smuggling.

Israeli and American officials have expressed concerns that Hamas will exploit the opening to bring weapons and fighters into Gaza. In January 2008, masked militants blew open the Rafah border wall, allowing thousands of people to pour in and out of Egypt.

Egyptian officials say they have security measures in place to keep weapons from crossing through Rafah.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said the Rafah opening puts "additional responsibility on the Egyptians about what happens in Gaza."

Opposition lawmaker Nachman Shai blamed the Israeli government for failing to prevent the opening of Rafah. Israeli officials had lobbied Egypt to leave the restrictions in place.

"Mubarak is gone, there is a new government and we already see how Israel-Egypt relations are substantially deteriorating," he said. "A significant security breach was created today under our noses.

The border opening comes on the heels of an Egyptian-mediated unity deal between the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fat'h.

Hamas has governed Gaza since routing Fatah forces in 2007, leaving the Fat'h-dominated Palestinian Authority in control only of the West Bank.

Earlier this month, the two sides signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo. But details are still being worked out, and Hamas will be in charge of the Palestinian side of Rafah.

Both Egypt and Fat'h officials played down any significance, describing the expanded operations of Rafah a victory for all Palestinians. Nabil Sha'ath, a senior Fat'h official, said he considered the border opening a fruit of the unity deal.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects that crossing is open six days a week. AP Video.)





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