In an interview with Al Jazeera television on Friday, Egypt’s Foreign Minister announced that the interim Egyptian government has decided to re-open the border between Egypt and Gaza, and will begin in the next few days to begin easing the blockade on Gaza.Israeli authorities imposed a siege on Gaza four years ago, although even prior to the siege many items were forbidden from entering the Gaza Strip, home to 1.4 million Palestinians – many of them refugees and the descendants of refugees forced to leave what is now Israel when Israel was created in 1948.
Hosni Mubarak, who was the ‘President-for-Life’ of Egypt at that time, agreed to help Israeli authorities enforce the blockade by keeping the Rafah border crossing (the only Gaza border crossing outside of Israeli control) closed indefinitely. Mubarak was overthrown in a non-violent revolution in February, and Palestinians in Gaza had been eagerly anticipating an announcement like this from the new Egyptian government.
The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Nabil al-Arabi, called the blockade on Gaza “shameful”, and said that the border will be opening to both people and goods in the coming days.
Representatives from both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank (run by Fateh), and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza (run by Hamas), welcomed the decision. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat urged Israel to follow Egypt’s lead and ease the blockade on Gaza, saying, “We welcome this step by Egypt. We have been pressing them all the time to end the suffering of the people in Gaza, but the real siege is caused by Israel because there are many border crossings with Israel but only one with Egypt.”
An unnamed Israeli official told Al Jazeera reporters in Jerusalem that this decision by Egypt raised serious security questions about Egypt. The anonymous source told Al Jazeera that the Israeli government believes that Hamas has a store of weapons in the Sinai peninsula in Egypt – but the source did not back that claim with any actual evidence of such a cache.