Egypt turmoil brings hope to Gazans

2011-01-31 09:01

Gaza City - Residents of Hamas-ruled Gaza are closely watching the drama unfolding in Egypt, believing any change in the government there would be positive because of restrictions imposed by President Hosni Mubarak on their blockaded territory.

Egypt and Israel severely limited access to Gaza after Hamas took over the crowded coastal strip of 1.5 million people from Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. Gaza and Egypt share a 15km border, and hundreds of smuggling tunnels beneath it serve as a main supply line for Gaza.

Despite renewed hopes in Gaza for open borders, the territory has become more isolated as a result of the unrest in Egypt.

The passenger crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which partially reopened several months ago as part of a slight easing of the blockade, was closed on Sunday by Egypt until further notice.

Smugglers said the flow of goods from Egypt, including cheap fuel, has been disrupted in recent days. Gazans have begun hoarding fuel, and longer lines of motorists were seen at gas stations.

Egypt's policy of helping Israel keep Gaza isolated has been deeply unpopular in the Arab world. Ordinary Gazans and Hamas members hope any future Egyptian government, under pressure to adopt more popular policies, would quickly ease the blockade.

Egypt change to reflect in Gaza

"Any Gazan is waiting for a change on the Egyptian side, because Egypt is the lung that we breathe through," a Hamas official said on Sunday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of orders by his movement to keep silent about the fast-paced developments.

"Any change (in Egypt) would be reflected in Gaza," he said.

In Gaza's Bureij refugee camp, 29-year-old Khaled Nasser was optimistic.

"Old women used to say, if you see clouds in the sky of Egypt, rain is expected in Gaza. The good news is coming," he said, leaning against his taxi as he followed news from Egypt on the radio.

Early on Sunday, a Gaza militant who was among thousands of inmates to break out of Egyptian prisons in recent days reached his home in the Bureij camp by slipping through a tunnel.

Hassan Washah, aged 27, said he escaped at a time of chaos and shooting in the prison yard. He said he had served three years of a 10-year term for trying to carry out an attack in Israel.

Hamas' relationship with the Mubarak government has been rocky. The Islamists frequently challenged Egypt, backing a massive breach of the Gaza-Egypt border wall in 2008 and refusing to sign an Egyptian-proposed power-sharing deal with Abbas.

Abbas not taking sides

Hamas has stopped short of a complete break with Cairo because Mubarak holds the keys to the gates of Gaza.

Mubarak, in turn, has tried to contain Hamas, the Gaza branch of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, but has also kept channels of communication open. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed and has long opposed Mubarak.

In the West Bank, where Hamas rival Abbas heads a self-ruled government, officials watched the turmoil in Egypt with concern.

Abbas stands to lose his main Arab patron if Mubarak is weakened or pushed aside. Since becoming president in 2005, Abbas has sought Mubarak's backing for any major decision involving negotiations with Israel and is a frequent visitor in Cairo. Abbas has relied on Egypt as a go-between with Hamas.

Abbas has avoided taking sides in public, only saying on Saturday that he is eager to see Egypt secure and stable.

In a show of support for Mubarak, Abbas' security forces quickly broke up a small solidarity rally for the Egyptian protesters outside Egypt's diplomatic mission in the West Bank on Sunday.

- AP

Read more on:    hosni mubarak  |  mahmoud abbas  |  egypt  |  gaza  |  north africa  |  middle east peace

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