x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Egypt opens its border to Palestinians

Egypt is allowing freer temporary entry for Palestinians in an unprecedented move that eases long-imposed travel restrictions, particularly on Gazans.

CAIRO // Egypt is allowing freer temporary entry for Palestinians in an unprecedented move that eases long-imposed travel restrictions, particularly on Gazans.

The decision has caused confusion among Egypt's security agencies - and brought some resistance.

Some officers at the airport refused to implement the measures, an airport official said - a sign of how deeply some in the security forces view the Palestinians as a potential threat. Even as some officials initially denied any easing, airport officials said seven Gazans were allowed into Egypt by dawn yesterday without the usual restrictions.

The changes appeared to be a gesture to the Palestinians after separate meetings last week between Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi, the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal.

Egypt's security agencies have monopolised policy-making towards the Palestinians for years, working closely with Israel and taking a tough line for fear of Hamas. But security forces have been shaken since the fall last year of Hosni Mubarak, and now particularly with the election of an Islamist as his successor.

The new measures ease the situation for those living in Gaza, which has been subject to a five-year Israeli blockade keeping them penned in. The only non-Israeli outlet from the strip is through Egypt, and for years Cairo assisted the blockade.

Even after Egypt officially opened the border crossing it imposed heavy restrictions. Until now, any Palestinian under 40 was escorted by security agents to or from the Gaza border. Palestinians saw the practice as humiliating, especially since it often meant detention at the border or airport for up to three days.

The new measures end this and allow Palestinians to cross through Egypt on their own, allowing them to stay for up to 72 hours to do so.

The measures came into effect early yesterday, taking many security agencies by surprise because it came before a formal announcement was made.