Egypt may open border with Gaza Strip as Israel expresses concern on Hamas

Egypt plans to open its border crossing with the Gaza Strip, possibly within the next two weeks, the Foreign Ministry said, as Israel expressed concern over its neighbor’s ties with Hamas, which rules the territory.

“We’ll open the crossing point for individuals in a continuous way,” Menha Bakhoum, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said in an interview today. “The details are still being worked out.”
Egypt has cooperated with Israel to impose a blockade on Gaza that Israel says is necessary to prevent Hamas and other Islamist groups from importing weapons that could be used against the Jewish state. The policy, implemented by former President Hosni Mubarak, has been unpopular in Egypt and was one of the targets of the protest movement that forced Mubarak out of office in February.
A senior Israeli official, speaking anonymously because the issues are being pursued in diplomatic channels, said Israel is concerned that Egypt is upgrading its ties with Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US and the European Union.
Israel is also concerned about signs of a rapprochement between Egypt and Iran, which backs Hamas, and about increasing calls in Egypt for the abrogation of a peace treaty with Israel signed in 1979, the Israeli official said.
On Feb. 11, the day Mubarak stepped down, Hamas called on any new Egyptian government to open the Rafah border crossing and help Palestinians end the blockade.
Hamas-Fatah accord
Egypt’s transitional military-led government this week brokered an agreement between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah movement, which controls the West Bank.
The accord aims to end a division lasting almost four years, create a unified administration and pave the way for Palestinian elections. It follows protests in March in which thousands of Palestinians, inspired by the popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, called for national unity.
Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader who runs Gaza, told reporters there today that the Palestine Liberation Organization headed by Mahmoud Abbas should withdraw its recognition of Israel “because its existence is illegal.” Abbas’s predecessor as PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, formally recognized Israel in 1993 letter, following up on an implicit recognition granted in the late 1980s.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman today urged the European Union to treat the Hamas-Fatah accord “with caution” and press Hamas to recognize Israel and scrap a clause in its charter calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, according to an email from his office.
Egypt policy shift
Mubarak’s compliance with Israeli and U.S. policies in the Middle East, including the embargo on Gaza and opposition to Hamas and to Iran’s nuclear program, helped Egypt win billions of dollars of American aid, mostly for his army. There have been signs of a shift in foreign policy since his Feb. 11 ouster as Egypt, under interim military rule, prepares to hold parliamentary and presidential elections this year.
Foreign Minister Nabil el-Arabi said last month that the country is ready to “open a new page” with Iran, with which it hasn’t had full diplomatic relations since 1979, after the overthrow of Mubarak. Iran hopes to “witness further expansion of relations,” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in response.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza since Hamas ousted Abbas’s forces and took over running the territory in 2007, after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections the previous year.
Goods shortages
The blockade cut off most civilian traffic and restricted trade with the territory, whose residents say they face shortages in some goods as a result.
Last month Israel’s navy boarded an Egypt-bound ship and found weapons that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said were sent by Iran and intended for “terrorist forces” in the Gaza Strip. Israel came under international criticism a year ago after a naval commando raid on an aid flotilla headed for Gaza left nine Turkish citizens dead.
Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, declined to comment today on Egypt’s plan to open the Rafah border crossing.

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