Rafah border crossing still shut: Palestinians

AFP , Sunday 5 Jun 2011

Despite the hopes that the critical Rafah border crossing would be reopened by today, Egypt is still waiting for the ‘outcome of consultations with the Palestinian foreign ministry’ before doing so

Palestinian officials said Sunday they had halted operations at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt a day after Egypt closed the border, apparently without warning.

In a statement, the Hamas head of the Palestinian side of the border crossing said it would remain closed for a second day while the two parties sought to reach agreement on the terminal's operation.

"We are waiting for the outcome of consultations between the Palestinian foreign ministry and the Egyptian government," Ayub Abu Shaar said.

He said the Palestinian side had decided to suspend operations until talks were complete after three days of confusion and coordination problems at the crossing, which Egypt reopened on a permanent basis just over a week ago.

Abu Shaar cited slow processing of travellers and Egypt's decision to close the crossing on Saturday, which the Palestinians said was done without coordination.

"The reopening of the crossing will be announced after these problems are solved," he said.

On Saturday, Abu Shaar said the crossing was shut down apparently without warning, with phone calls to the Egyptian side going unanswered as a crowd of hundreds of would-be travellers massed at the Palestinian side of the border.

According to a security source in Egypt, the crossing was closed for renovation work that was to have been completed on Friday.

Egyptian security and state television later said the crossing had reopened, but only for pedestrians, as the works prevented the passage of vehicles.

But Palestinian officials said the border was still closed and Hamas police had moved Palestinian travellers away from the frontier fence.

Egypt reopened the Rafah crossing last month, ending its cooperation with a blockade Israel imposed in 2006, after Gaza-based militants snatched an Israeli soldier.

The blockade was tightened in 2007 when the Islamist movement Hamas seized control of the territory, with Egypt cooperating by tightly restricting movement through Rafah.

Rafah is Gaza's only border crossing not controlled by Israel, and news of Egypt's decision to reopen it was warmly welcomed in the coastal strip, though Israel strongly criticised the move.

Egypt's decision to permanently reopen Rafah came more than three months after former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned following 18 days of massive street protests against his rule.

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