Egypt will permanently open its border with the Gaza Strip, the transitional government said Wednesday, putting it at odds with Israel. The unsealing of the border will give 1.5 million Gazans access to the world for the first time in four years.
The move highlights how the popular uprisings throughout the Arab world are changing regional politics. The border between Rafah and Gaza has been closed since Hamas took control in Gaza in 2007, and is the only official entry point to the Gaza Strip outside of Israel. The border was closed at the same time that Israel began imposing its own blockade on Gaza for security reasons, the New York Times said.
The crossing at Rafah will be opened permanently starting on Saturday. Women of all ages and men under 18 or over 40 will be allowed to leave, while others will need to get a visa. Students with letters of acceptance from universities in Egypt will be able to enter Egypt, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The crossing will be open everyday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Fridays and holidays, CNN reported.
"The Egyptian government decided to open the Rafah border to (give) relief (to) the people of Gaza permanently," said Ambassador Menha Bakhoum, head of media and public diplomacy for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, according to CNN.
Israeli officials have warned that opening border crossings constitutes a security threat, pointing out that Hamas has been able to smuggle weapons through even with the sealed borders. Egyptians, though, are in large part supportive of a Palestinian state and, since the revolt that unseated former president Hosni Mubarak, there have been numerous rallies for reforms, often featuring Palestinian flags, the Washington Post reported.
Earlier this month, Egypt helped broker a deal between the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah to reunite their governments, in a bid to boost the Palestinians' political strength. A day after the agreement was reached, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby signaled that Egypt would take steps to end the blockade, saying that he considered his country's involvement in the blockade "shameful," according to the Washington Post.