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Thursday, 26 May 2011
Egypt to open Rafah crossing to Gaza
The blockade of Gaza was deeply unpopular in Egypt
Egypt has announced it is to open the Rafah border crossing into Gaza from Saturday 28th May.
Israel and Egypt have blockaded Gaza since 2007 when Hamas, an Islamist movement considered to be a terrorist organisation by many governments, took control of the territory.
The blockade was a deeply unpopular part of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak's rule, and the transitional military government that was established after his downfall in February said last month that it intended to open the crossing permanently.
The Rafah crossing – the only crossing into Gaza that bypasses Israel – will now be open from 0900 to 2100 every day except Fridays and holidays.
The blockade of Gaza has been condemned by numerous international bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, who in 2010 said it was a clear violation of international humanitarian law, and the UN, whose officials have called it a 'medieval siege'.
It has been called 'collective punishment' for the people of the Gaza strip, most of whom rely heavily on aid and smuggled goods.
Egypt's post-Mubarak government has already helped broker a unity agreement between the two main Palestinian factions – Fatah and Hamas, and have shown a definite coolness towards Israel.
Hamas spokeman Fawzi Barhum celebrated the move as “a courageous and responsible decision which falls in line with Palestinian and Egyptian public opinion.”
"We hope that it is a step towards the complete lifting of the siege on Gaza," he said in a statement, and called on the world "to follow Egypt's example" in breaking the Israeli blockade.
Israel has condemned the decision and vice premier Silvan Shalom said on 26th May that international supervision of the crossing was necessary.
"This is a dangerous development that could lead to weapons and al-Qa'ida smuggling into Gaza," Shalom said.
Israel eased the restriction on the region somewhat last summer following a surge of international pressure after an Israeli raid on a Turkish aid flotilla killed nine activists. The situation, however, has remained dire for many Gazan residents since.
Sources: BBC News, Egyptian Gazette, Jerusalem Post
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