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Egypt says Gaza border will open permanently

Palestinian Hamas security forces stand guard at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on April 30, 2011, a day after Egypt said it will permanently open the Rafah border crossing as part of its plans to ease the blockade on Gaza while an Egyptian border guard was killed in an exchange of gunfire with Palestinian tunnel smugglers. AFP PHOTO/SAID KHATIB (Photo credit should read SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)


Egypt intends to open its border with Gaza permanently to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians under an Israeli blockade but the mechanics of such a step are still being worked out, the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

The initiative suggests a further policy shift since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak, whose government co-operated with Israel in enforcing a blockade on the Gaza Strip which is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

Under Mr. Mubarak, Egypt only sporadically opened up the border for food and medicine, or to let through people, mainly those seeking medical treatment or travelling to study from the area of about 1.5 million Palestinians.

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That system has broadly stayed in place since Mr. Mubarak was pushed out on Feb. 11.

"The intention is there to open it on a permanent basis to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians, but all the mechanics on how it is going to work are under study," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Menha Bakhoum told Reuters.

She said the issue was being studied "at all levels" but did not say when this might be implemented.

Egypt has brokered a reconciliation deal between Palestinian factions, due to be signed this week, and Cairo has signalled it is ready for closer diplomatic relations with Iran that have been severed for about three decades.

Analysts say the new rulers in Cairo are shifting policy away from the Mubarak era, in part to gain credibility amongst a largely pro-Palestinian population.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby last week called the blockade on Gaza "disgraceful" and told Al Jazeera television that Egypt would look into ways to open the border in 10 days.

Ms. Bakhoum, in comments carried by the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, said the 10 days Elaraby referred to was the period Egypt needed to study the mechanisms to open the border.

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Ms. Bakhoum also said in comments reported by Al-Ahram that reviewing policies after an uprising that toppled Mubarak did not mean Cairo would stop honouring international commitments - a reference to its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

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