Egypt ends blockade, but not its hostility to Hamas

Flotilla crisis: Cairo reopens Gaza border but continues its underground wall

BY Jack Bremer LAST UPDATED AT 18:04 ON Wed 2 Jun 2010

The international outrage at Israel's attack on the Freedom Flotilla has tended to obscure the fact that it is not only Israel that has been blockading Gaza for the three years since Hamas took control of the region. Egypt has also been party to the blockade - and has also taken a tough approach to administering it.

The fact that the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak moved yesterday to open "for an unlimited time" the Rafah crossing into Gaza (above) suggests Cairo wants to distance itself quickly from the focus of international anger, especially from other Arab nations critical of Egypt's complicity in the blockade.

One aspect of Egypt's tough stance until now has been its constant efforts to close the smuggling tunnels that run underground between Egypt and Gaza.

These tunnels - some of them big enough to take cattle and hatchback cars - have been used ever since the blockade was imposed in June 2007 to get all sorts of provisions into Gaza.

Many have been demolished by the Egyptian authorities. There was even an accusation from Hamas a month ago that the Egyptians had used poisonous gas to kill four Gazans inside one of the tunnels. This was dismissed by Cairo as "entirely false, of course" and, to be fair, the accusation has not been made since.

But there is no denying the fact that the Egyptians have been working on an underground wall intended to block off all the tunnels in one fell swoop. Asked today by The First Post whether work on the subterranean wall would be suspended in the light of the opening of the Rafah crossing, we were told by the Egyptian embassy in London: No, the work continues.

How long the Rafah crossing stays open remains to be seen. The governor of northern Sinai, Murad Muwafi, said Mubarak had ordered its opening in an effort to "alleviate the suffering of our Palestinian brothers after the Israeli attack" on the Freedom Flotilla.

But Mubarak is hostile to Hamas, which has links to Egypt's banned opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood. And according to unsubstantiated reports, the Brotherhood was well represented on the Freedom Flotilla. · 

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