Rafah crossing
Photo: AP
Egypt to open Rafah crossing
Cairo announces border crossing with Gaza to resume regular activity starting Saturday. Move meant to east blockade on Strip

Egypt's official news agency says the Rafah border crossing with Gaza will be permanently opened for Palestinians on Saturday, a move that will significantly ease a blockade of the impoverished territory.


MENA said Wednesday that Egypt's new military rulers set the date for the opening of the crossing as part of efforts "to end the status of the Palestinian division and achieve national reconciliation."


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The decision is a sharp departure from the policies of ex-President Hosni Mubarak, who had restricted the movement of people and goods through Rafah in keeping with a blockade it imposed on Gaza along with Israel, after Hamas seized control of the strip in 2007.


Israel's crossings are more significant, since they handle more cargo. A year ago Israel significantly eased its restrictions on cargo entering Gaza, but it still severely limits entry and exit of Gazans through the northern crossing into Israel.


The statement said rules that were in effect before the blockade would be reinstated. At that time, European observers had a role in operating the crossing, and Israel monitored people and cargo to keep out militants and weapons.


Egypt's Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby told the Arab satellite channel al-Jazeera late last month that the closure of Rafah crossing was about to end, calling the decision to close it "a disgusting matter."


Egyptian officials have notified Hamas government in Gaza of the decision, according to which the crossing will be opened for nine hours a day, six days a week.


The Egyptians will apply a protocol according to which men ages 18-40 would have to coordinate going through the crossing, but women and children would be exempt from visas.


Students and people in need of medical treatment would also be allowed through more easily.


Foreigners wishing to enter Gaza or Egypt via the Rafah crossing would need to coordinate it though Egypt's embassies and consulates worldwide.


The Palestinian Embassy in Egypt will be tasked with handling requests from those who do not meet the criteria.


Hamas welcomed Egypt's decision to open the crossing calling it "courageous."


"We hope that this is a step towards the total lifting of the blockade on Gaza," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, calling "the world to follow Egypt's example for the ... lifting of the siege."


AFP and Elior Levy contributed to this report



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