Egypt Eases Border Restrictions at Rafah Crossing

The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip announced on Monday that the Egyptian authorities have approved significant easing of restrictions on Palestinians wishing to enter or leave the strip via the Rafah crossing, or to fly via Cairo International Airport.

Maher Abu Sabha, director of borders within Gaza's Hamas-run government, announced that the steps include shortening the list of Palestinians banned from entering Egypt for security reasons. Egypt will also allow Palestinians who do not have an identity card to cross the border at Rafah without prior coordination, if they are accompanied by a relative who has an identity card.

Abu Sabha expressed hope that the border crossing will be opened permanently in the near future, which would allow Palestinians to move freely out of Gaza. According to employees at the Rafah crossing, in the past two weeks Egyptian authorities have allowed 1,000 Palestinians to cross into Egypt daily, instead of the 500 previously allowed.

The decision to ease passage restrictions came only a few days after a large demonstration organized by Hamas called for the blockade of the Strip to be lifted, as President Mohammed Morsi promised in his election campaign.

Senior Hamas official Ismail Radwan said the Palestinians understand the difficulties Egypt is facing internally, but that lifting the blockade is a humanitarian issue of prime importance that demands an immediate decision.

Morsi referred to the blockade of Gaza several times during his election campaign, calling it "inhumane." But in actual practice he cannot lift the blockade in one fell swoop. A senior Egyptian source noted that lifting the blockade would necessitate considerable preparation and would have to be carried out incrementally in order to prevent a mass unsupervised exodus from Gaza into Egypt.

Meanwhile, Morsi has begun to seek ways to end the split between Fatah and Hamas, and has promised to discuss the issue in upcoming talks with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the coming weeks.