Sunday, February 10, 2008

Egypt-Gaza border resealed

Many in Israel are said to support the idea of Egypt supplying Gaza's fuel and power [Reuters]

Egyptian and Hamas security forces have closed the border with Gaza Strip after more than two weeks during which Palestinians were able to pass freely through the crossing.
Barbed wire and metal barricades were used to reseal the only remaining gap in the Egyptian side of the border on Sunday.

Hamas fighters had blown holes in the border fence to allow Gazans to travel to towns in Sinai to stock up on food, fuel and other necessities which were dwindling during an Israeli blockade of the territory.

One gate remained open to allow Palestinians to return to Gaza and Egyptians to return home, witnesses said.

'Restoring control'

Hamas has been under pressure from Egypt to stop the movement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt.

After talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo on Saturday, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a former Palestinian foreign minister, said Hamas "will restore control over this border, in co-operation with Egypt ... gradually".

Al-Zahar also said that the closure would be temporary while the Egyptians search for a way to reopen the border.

Egyptian officials were not available for comment on the Hamas claims.

Any role for Hamas for controlling the border would be sure to anger the international community and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, because it would amount to tacit recognition of Hamas rule in Gaza.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from the Gaza side of the crossing, said that Egypt allowing Hamas to help with securing the border, indicated the government's recognition of Hamas as the ruling authority in the Gaza Strip.

She said: "This is sure to anger Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, considering they refuse to recognise the rule of Hamas."

"But it seems that Egypt is concentrating on the realities on the ground - which is Hamas remaining in control of Gaza, which is why they are working with them."

Hamas leaders took full control of the Gaza Strip after their fighters defeated security forces loyal to Abbas in June last year.

The border breach has sparked calls from Hamas leaders for closer ties between Egypt and Gaza, which currently depends on Israel for its supplies.

Improved ties

Ismail Haniya, the deposed Palestinian prime minister and Hamas leader, is pushing for increased ties between Gaza and Egypt.

He wants to disengage the coastal territory's economy from Israel and instead receive fuel and electricity supplies from Egypt.

"We have said from the days of our election campaign that we want to move toward economic disengagement from the Israeli occupation," he said.

"Egypt has a greater ability to meet the needs of Gaza."

Some Israeli officials believe that would be good for Israel it would reduce Israel's responsibility for the impoverished territory.

The Israeli defence ministry is currently drafting an official position on the idea, security officials have said.


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