Palestinian factions welcomed Cairo’s announcement that it will permanently open the Rafah border starting Saturday. Many international parties also welcomed the move as it would be a positive step towards lifting the highly condemned blockade on the Gaza Strip. In response, Israel strongly criticised the declaration, claiming that opening the border would pose a security threat to Israel.
“Cairo’s decision to permanently open the Rafah border crossing demonstrates the positive policies towards Arab causes which Cairo is now adopting after the January 25 Revolution and will restore its deserved role as a pioneer in the region,” Ismail Radwan, a leading figure in Hamas, told Ahram Online. Radwan believes that opening the border crossing will play the biggest role in lifting the siege on Gaza, which has been in place for more than four years, and one of the guarantees that Palestinian reconciliation will continue as Cairo has followed through with her promise.
He criticised Israel’s position and statements, saying: “The Israeli enemy, which imposed the siege and exercised aggression, would certainly want the status quo to continue, but no one will participate in this policy anymore. In fact, it is now necessary to open all border crossings and entirely lift the siege on Gaza.” Radwan called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to stop any form of security coordination with Israel and urged all parties to focus on maintaining Palestinian reconciliation.
Discussing the operation of the border crossing in the future, Radwan said that the Palestinians were not informed of details but what is important is that the border crossing will be open.
Ambassador Yasser Othman, Egypt’s ambassador to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), said that Cairo refuses any foreign interference in how the Rafah border crossing will operate since it is a purely domestic issue, decided by Egypt according to its interests and national outlook towards the Palestinian people.
In statements over the phone from Ramallah, Othman said that the decision to open the Rafah border crossing and facilitate the movement of travellers was taken in consultation with the Palestinian leadership, with the aim of bolstering reconciliation and as part of Egypt’s policy to alleviate the suffering of the people in the Gaza Strip.
He added that the Egyptian embassy in Ramallah will be responsible for processing visa applications for males between 18-40 years old, while all other categories are part of the expedited measures and will not need visas. There will be other facilitations which Palestinian citizens will find out at the border crossing. As for Palestinian students studying in Egypt, those rejected or without security clearance, their problem is almost resolved, according to Othman, who also noted that soon steps to receive security clearance will be simplified.
The border crossing will be routinely open starting on Saturday, except on Fridays and official holidays, between 9am-5pm as part of a move to facilitate the movement of Palestinians through Egyptian gateways. Palestinian families can travel back and forth to the Gaza Strip as long as they are carrying passports and Palestinian identity papers. Those travelling for academic reasons will also be allowed passage as long as they show proof of their enrolment; those crossing for medical reasons should carry a doctor’s letter of referral.
Informed sources said that a Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo a few days ago to work on implementing Palestinian reconciliation and draft a plan of action, with priority to forming a government. Meanwhile, Egypt is attempting a new mediation on the exchange of prisoners between the Palestinians and Israelis. The sourced revealed that an Israeli delegation was in Cairo with a list of the names of prisoners that is being negotiated, in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The source did not reveal whether talks made progress or not.