POSTED: 1:09 a.m. HST, Aug 14, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 1:12 a.m. HST, Aug 14, 2012
RAFAH, Gaza Strip >> Egypt on Tuesday opened its border with Hamas-ruled Gaza for a three-day period ahead of a major Muslim holiday this weekend, but imposed tight restrictions on who can travel and did not say whether it would resume normal border operations.
The government in Cairo closed the border Aug. 5, shutting down the Rafah passenger terminal and — according to Egyptian security officials — sealing more than 100 cross-border smuggling tunnels. The move came after Islamic militants in Egypt’s Sinai desert near Gaza killed 16 Egyptian troops at a border post near Israel.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s government has suggested the assailants had help from Gaza, a claim Hamas denies. The Egyptian restrictions raised tensions between Morsi and Hamas, both members of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood and presumably sympathetic to each other.
The Hamas interior minister, Fathi Hamad, has demanded that Morsi reopen the Rafah crossing quickly and suggested the new Egyptian president was acting like his predecessor, the staunchly anti-Hamas Hosni Mubarak who had backed Israel’s tight blockade of Gaza’s borders.
“We suffered from the unjust regime of Mubarak that participated in the Israeli blockade of Gaza,” Hamad wrote in comments posted on his ministry’s website. “Why should we suffer now, in the era of Egypt’s revolution and democracy?”
Addressing Egyptian leaders, Hamad called for a different policy. “Palestine should be considered a priority,” he wrote. “If you are not doing that, you have to correct your course.”
Last week, Egypt began allowing stranded travelers to return to Gaza, and some 4,500 have so far made the trip, according to Gaza border officials. On Tuesday, Egypt for the first time allowed some border traffic from Gaza, but only for a select few — Gaza students registered at foreign universities, those with residency abroad and medical patients.
Gaza border official Maher Abu Sabha said two-way traffic will continue for three days, in the run-up to the weekend’s Eid el-Fitr holiday, which caps the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The limited opening is meant to relieve some of the pressure on Gaza, but also suggests that there is no imminent decision by Egypt to resume normal border traffic.
Amani Salman, 34, and her four sons were waiting on the Gaza side of the border, hoping to cross into Egypt en route to their home in Qatar. Salman said she had been scheduled to travel on the day after the attack and was forced to cancel her plane tickets, at a cost of $1,800.
She said she had hesitated for years to visit her family in Gaza because of the precarious border situation, but decided to risk the trip after the change of government in Egypt.
“This year, I thought it will be better, but it was the same,” she said. “We love Egypt and we were very happy for their new president. We are not asking for much, just to be treated as humans ... It’s a mistake to punish Gaza.”