Egypt lets building material cross its border into Gaza

Sat Dec 29, 2012 9:45am EST
 
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ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) - Islamist-led Egypt allowed building materials into Gaza via the Rafah crossing on Saturday for the first time since Hamas seized control of the Palestinian enclave in 2007, an Egyptian border official said.

It was part of a shipment of building materials donated by the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, which has pledged $400 million to finance reconstruction in Gaza. The Islamist group Hamas has run Gaza since driving out its rivals in the Palestinian Authority.

Israel tightened a blockade on the Gaza Strip after Hamas, which refuses to recognize the Jewish state, took power there.

Hamas has been hoping that the rise to power in Egypt of a fellow-Islamist government sympathetic to its cause will lead to a full opening of Rafah to commercial goods. Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi sent his prime minister to Gaza last month to show solidarity during a brief war between Hamas and Israel.

The Rafah border with Egypt is the only Gaza crossing not controlled by Israel, which withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005. Cairo has restricted the use of Rafah crossing to travelers and medical relief, giving rise to extensive smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border.

The border official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while the Egyptian authorities had agreed to allow the Qatari-donated material into Gaza, the shipment did not mark the start of the full opening of the crossing sought by Hamas.

An official in Gaza's Hamas government said it was a positive step. "We hope that Egypt will open this crossing permanently for goods so our people can meet their needs," said Ehab al-Ghsain, head of the Hamas government media office.

Palestinians said it was the first time anything other than people and medical supplies had been allowed in since 2006. Six truck loads of building material had crossed on Saturday, with more expected later in the day, the Egyptian official said.

The government of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, who was removed from power by a popular uprising nearly two years ago, looked on Hamas with suspicion bordering on outright hostility.   Continued...

 
Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi signs a decree to put into effect the new constitution in Cairo December 25, 2012, in this handout photo released by Egyptian Presidency office. REUTERS/Egyptian Presidency/Handout