Egypt Says It Will Soon Open Gaza Border Permanently

While Gaza border policy will change, international commitments -- like 1979 peace treaty with Israel -- will be maintained, says Egyptian Foreign Ministry.

Egypt intends to open its border with the Gaza Strip permanently to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians under blockade by Israel, but the mechanics of such a step are still being worked out, the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

The Foreign Ministry spokesperson also said that although officials would be reviewing its policies after an uprising that toppled former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, it would not stop honoring international commitments, a reference to its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

AP

The comments suggest policies shifting since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak, whose government cooperated with Israel in enforcing a blockade on Gaza which is controlled by the Islamist Hamas.

Under Mubarak, Egypt only sporadically opened up the border for food and medicine, or to let people through, mainly those seeking medical treatment or travelling to study from the Strip, which has a population of about 1.5 million Palestinians. That system has broadly stayed in place since Mubarak was pushed out on February 11.

"The intention is there to open it on a permanent basis to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians, but all the mechanics on how it is going to work are under study," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Menha Bakhoum told Reuters. She said the issue was being studied "at all levels" but did not say when this might be implemented.

Egypt has brokered a reconciliation deal between Palestinian factions, due to be signed this week, and Cairo has signaled it is ready for closer diplomatic relations with Iran. Ties between the two countries have been severed for about three decades.

Analysts say the new rulers in Cairo are shifting policy away from the Mubarak era, in part to gain credibility amongst a largely pro-Palestinian population.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby last week called the blockade on Gaza "disgraceful" and told Al-Jazeera television that Egypt would look into ways to open the border within 10 days.

Bakhoum, in comments carried by the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, said the 10 days Elaraby referred to was the period Egypt needed to study the mechanisms to open the border.