Open Rafah border – Mubarak

2010-06-02 10:32

Cairo - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday ordered the opening of the Rafah border crossing to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, the official Mena agency reported.

The order came a day after a deadly raid by Israeli commandos on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007.

"Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has given orders to open the Rafah border crossing to allow humanitarian and medical aid into the Gaza Strip, as well as to receive medical cases which require access to Egyptian territory," Mena said.

"This comes as part of Egypt's moves to ease the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip."

According to Egyptian security sources in Rafah, the border opened on Tuesday at 13:30 (10:30 GMT). No date has been set for it to close again.

The Rafah border is Gaza's only crossing that bypasses Israel. Egypt has kept it largely closed, opening it for humanitarian cases on two days a week.

A 2005 agreement brokered by the United States, put the Palestinian Authority and Israel in charge of the border, with observation from the European Union.

A Hamas official told AFP the Islamist movement "reiterates its demand that the Arab League work for an immediate and complete end to the siege on Gaza".

Arab foreign ministers are to hold crisis talks in Cairo on Wednesday to come up with a unified response to the Israeli raid.

Egypt has come under harsh regional criticism for keeping the border closed and for building an underground wall in a bid to curb smuggling, which it views as a security risk.

According to Mena, extra work teams have been put in place at the Rafah border to speed up the implementation of Mubarak's decision.

The opening of the border "will allow those coming from abroad and the sick who have finished their treatment and students studying abroad to return to the Gaza Strip”.

"Those stranded in Gaza who have residency abroad or foreign passports, students studying abroad and sick who need treatment abroad will be allowed to leave the Strip via Egypt," Mena said.

It said any medication or medical goods will be allowed into Gaza and that humanitarian aid and food will also be let in but in co-ordination with the Egyptian Red Crescent.

Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza in 2006 further tightening it the following year after the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

In December 2008, Israel launched a massive offensive in a bid to halt rocket and mortar fire by Gaza-based militants. About 1 400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the 22-day conflict.

Since 2007, Gaza's 1.5 million people have relied on a web of tunnels beneath the Rafah border for most of their needs.

The World Bank estimates that 80% of Gaza's imports are brought in through the tunnels.

Most of the tunnels are used to bring in basic goods such as food, household appliances, building materials and livestock, but Hamas and other armed groups use their own more secret tunnels to smuggle in weapons and money.

The move to open the border came after Israeli commandos stormed an aid flotilla bound for Gaza on Monday, killing at least nine pro-Palestinian activists and sparking an international outcry.

The six ships were carrying some 10 000 tons of supplies.