Egypt eases own Gaza blockade after Israel Freedom Flotilla raid
Egypt partially opened its border with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, bowing to public fury over the Gaza blockade in the wake of an Israeli raid on the so-called Freedom Flotilla carrying humanitarian aid.
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Hossam Zaki, spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, said the government hasn't decided how long the Rafah crossing will be open. “The president didn't specify that, so it's going to be until further notice,” he said. The decision also did not change the type of goods allowed into Gaza, he said. Rafah is mainly used as a crossing for people, not goods, but Egypt has permitted some aid, mostly medical supplies, into the territory. It has not allowed the building supplies Gaza needs to rebuild after Israel’s offensive last year.Skip to next paragraph
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Israel sealed the Gaza border when the Islamist group Hamas took control of the territory in 2007, only allowing a trickle of food and goods into the territory. Egypt largely followed suit, but periodically allows shipments into Gaza and permits some Palestinians to cross. Both Egypt and Israel are motivated by a desire to see Hamas weakened. Hamas's charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Egypt also fears taking the burden of responsibility for the situation in Gaza from Israel's shoulders.
Closing the tunnels
Egypt has further angered its citizens with the decision to build the subterranean wall along the border to block the smuggling tunnels. Many of the day-to-day goods used in Gaza are smuggled through the tunnels, but they are also used for weapons. Hamas taxes the smuggled goods, and reducing that source of revenue would further pressure the movement, which is already experiencing a financial crunch. Emad Gad, an analyst with the government-financed Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, says Egypt’s wall is near completion.
Egypt’s position has not only provoked the ire of its citizens, but has provided an opportunity for rival Arab states to criticize the regime. Opening the border now will keep countries like Qatar and Syria from accusing Egypt of siding with Israel, says Mr. Gad.
“The Egyptian regime is trying not only to deflect the anger on the street, but also to drop a card from the hand of the hard-liner countries,” he says. He predicts the border will remain open for several months.
Egyptians have staged multiple demonstrations against Israel in Cairo since Monday, including a large protest attended by many members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The demonstrations are notable because Egypt has largely quashed protests over Gaza since Israel’s offensive in the territory which ended in January 2009. That conflict left about 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
With the spotlight on the issue, Egypt could find it difficult to revert to its former policy of keeping the border closed. But Gad does not anticipate the regime completely abandoning its policy; he says after several months the regime will likely return to only intermittent openings. “It's a very hot issue now, because the blood is there. But after two months the Egyptian public will forget,” he says.
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