Last Updated: Wed May 25, 2011 23:06 pm (KSA) 20:06 pm (GMT)

Egypt to lift restriction on Rafah border crossing to ease Gaza blockade

The move is seen as a policy shift since the ouster of President Mubarak, whose government cooperated with Israel in enforcing the blockade of Gaza. (File photo)
The move is seen as a policy shift since the ouster of President Mubarak, whose government cooperated with Israel in enforcing the blockade of Gaza. (File photo)

Egypt will open the Rafah border crossing on a daily basis starting this weekend in a bid to ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip, the official MENA news agency reported on Wednesday.

Egyptian authorities will now open the border from "9:00 am to 5:00 pm on a daily basis, except for Fridays and public holidays" starting Saturday May 28, MENA said.

It said the decision came as "part of Egyptian efforts to end divisions among Palestinians and to finalize their reconciliation".

Egypt will revert to entry rules for Palestinians in place before the blockade was imposed in 2007.

"Palestinian women of all ages will be exempted from visas as will men under 18 or over 40," MENA said.

The exemption also applies to Palestinians entering Egypt for study as long as they have proof of affiliation to an Egyptian university, MENA said.

Although Egypt had been gradually easing restrictions on the Gaza border -- it had been operating five days a week -- Palestinians needed to coordinate with security authorities before entering Egypt.

The Rafah border with Egypt is Gaza's only crossing that bypasses Israel.

The move, which is likely to raise Israel's objections, suggested a further policy shift since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, whose government cooperated with the Jewish state in enforcing a blockade on the Islamist Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and has a 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

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

Israel, which had earlier voiced hope that the clampdown on the Egypt-Gaza border would remain in place, was circumspect about Egypt's plans.

MENA also said that thousands of Palestinians trapped in war-torn Libya will continue to be subject to the same regulations that exist now "due to the existing conditions which require them to receive an advanced visa for all age groups".

It gave no further details.

(Sara Ghasemilee, an editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: sara.ghasemilee@mbc.net)

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