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Preparations are underway for the permanent opening of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi said yesterday.

Speaking to Al Jazeera television, he said the move will “definitely happen,” adding that steps will be taken within seven to 10 days to ease the blockade of Gaza and what he termed the “suffering of the Palestinian people.”

Such a change in Egyptian policy would spell the end of the Israeli siege of the Hamas-controlled Strip, which has been made possible by the closure along the Egyptian border as well. That closure was imposed in coordination with Egypt by former President Hosni Mubarak, who has since been deposed.

The opening of the Rafah crossing would also signify the end of a 2005 agreement on the administration of Gaza border crossings to which the United States, Israel, Egypt and the European Union were parties. Until now, people and goods crossing in and out of Egypt required Israeli oversight and approval. It is currently unclear what security arrangements the Egyptians would put in place at Rafah to ensure that terrorists and weapons are not allowed into the Strip.

The siege of the Strip is one method that has been used by the Israeli government, in coordination with Egypt, to weaken the Hamas regime in Gaza and undermine popular support for the Islamist organization due to the economic hardship the blockade has caused.

At the same time, lifting the siege would enable Israel to finalize the disengagement it carried out in 2005 when it evacuated its military forces and settlements from the coastal territory.

Gazans needing medical treatment would be able to leave via the Egyptian border, while food and other necessary goods could also be brought in through Egypt rather than Israel.

With reporting by Reuters.