Egypt will open its only crossing with the Gaza Strip this weekend, the Cairo military government announced Wednesday, significantly easing a four-year blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory but setting up a potential conflict with Israel.
Egypt's official Middle East News Agency said the Rafah border crossing would be opened permanently starting Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Fridays and holidays.
This gives Gaza Palestinians a way to freely enter and exit their territory for the first time since 2007, when Hamas overran the territory, and Israel and Egypt closed the crossings.
MENA said the decision to open the Rafah crossing was part of efforts to end the status of the Palestinian division and achieve national reconciliation.
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.
Gazans have circumvented the blockade by operating hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the 9-mile Gaza-Egypt border. The tunnels have been used to bring in all manner of products, as well as people. Israel charges Hamas has used the tunnels to import weapons, including rockets that can reach main population centers in Israel's center.
The opening of Rafah will allow the flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza without Israeli permission or supervision, which has not been the case up until now.
Rafah's opening would be a violation of an agreement reached in 2005 between the United States, Israel, Egypt, and the European Union, which gives EU monitors access to the crossing. The monitors were to reassure Israel that weapons and militants wouldn't get into Gaza after its pullout from the territory in the fall of 2005.