Conflict & Justice

Egypt and Gaza come to an understanding, open the border


Senior Hamas official Ismail Haniya holds up the Palestinian flag (L) and the Egyptian flag (R) as he celebrates in Gaza City after the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi was declared the winner of the Egyptian elections, on June 24, 2012. Hamas met with Morsi in Egypt last week, which resulted in lifting travel restrictions through the border between Gaza and Egypt.



Although a formal announcement hasn't been made about easing travel restrictions between Gaza and Egypt, the AP reports that Palestinians were allowed entry into Egypt today without being sent back to Gaza, and that the Egyptian ambassador to the West Bank said travelers can enter for up to 72 hours. 

This setup may be extended so the border is open 24 hours a day, according to The National, an English paper out of Abu Dhabi.

When the Israeli blockade of Gaza began in 2006, now-deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak cooperated with Israel and closed the border that runs between the Sinai Peninsula and the city of Rafah, through a series of treaties that limited not only the flow of tourists and workers, but also supplies and trade into the area. 

Formerly, when a Palestinian under 40 attempted entry to Egypt, they could be held for hours at checkpoints or the airport before often being forcibly returned to their side of the border. Egypt had a low quota for allowing people and goods transit across the border, at only 500 a day, and many Palestinians had long accused Mubarak of being a puppet of Israel and the US for being "complicit in the blockade," as Haaretz put it. 

This arrangement bred a black-market tunnel system from Egypt to Hamas-controlled Gaza.

More from GlobalPost: Gaza smugglers — serving the community

GlobalPost reported in 2011 that despite heavy bombardment from Israel and promises to shut down the seven-mile underground system, the tunnels have been used for a number of reasons, from smuggling things like livestock, food, gas and appliances, to getting children to doctors in Egypt and journalists that have been refused entry safely into Gaza.

But now, having only been in office for three weeks, Egyptian President Morsi has arranged with Hamas to facilitate a new era of border operations, and in the days after his election, up to 1,000 people per day were crossing the border. Egypt's Daily News, the only English-language Egyptian daily newspaper, reports the quota has been lifted to 1,500.

"We have entered a new era in Palestine's relationship with Egypt, the big sister and the leader of the Arab nation," Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said after a meeting with Morsi in Cairo last week, according to Haaretz. Hamas is an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and supported Morsi in the Egyptian election. "We are confident that Egypt, the revolution led by Morsi, will never provide cover for any new aggression or war on Gaza," he said.

The two also discussed Egypt continuing sending gas and supplies to Gaza, an arrangement Egypt's military government set up in May. 

For its part, Israel has not issued a statement in any form, although it's possible they hope Egypt will help shoulder the responsibility of making peace between Hamas and Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and further negotiations between Israel and the two Palestinian factions. 

More from GlobalPost: Could Morsi make peace in the Middle East?

"Meshal said Egypt's presidency and intelligence services would continue to shepherd a reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah that began last year," reported Haaretz.

Despite large policy shifts between Hamas and Egypt, Israel has sent over 150 rockets into Gaza over the past week in retaliation to continued Hamas aggression, although the Jerusalem Post reports Israel wants a cease-fire. 

For GlobalPost's continued coverage of Egypt, check out our Special Report "Egypt Votes: From Tahrir Square to the Ballot Box."