Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Egypt relaxed restrictions at its border with the Gaza Strip, allowing many Palestinians to cross freely for the first time in four years. Women, children and men over 40 are now allowed to pass freely. Men aged between 18 and 40 will still require a permit, and trade is still prohibited. The move, strongly opposed by Israel, comes some three months after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak lost power. Meanwhile, an Israeli military spokesperson said that a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel without causing any casualties or damages.
Among the first to cross the reopened border post were two ambulances ferrying patients from the hitherto-blockaded Gaza Strip for treatment in Egypt as well as a minibus carrying a dozen visitors. About 400 Gazans were reported to be waiting at the crossing. Egypt and Israel closed borders with Gaza when Hamas seized power in 2007.
Israel opposes Egypt’s move, concerned that weapons will be imported into Gaza through the Egyptian frontier, but Egyptian authorities insist they will conduct thorough searches of all those crossing.
For analysts, the decision to ease the border controls is symbolically important, a signal that the new leadership in Egypt is shifting the dynamics of the Middle East. With elections coming up in Egypt, the change in policy is likely to be popular with a public sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. But for Israel, this has meant raising its security level.
The border crossing will be open from 9 am to 9 pm each day, except Fridays and holidays.
The latest move comes a month after Egypt pushed through a unity deal between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, which rule the West Bank and the Gaza Strip respectively.
Last year, Israel eased restrictions on goods entering Gaza, but severe shortages in the territory remain. However, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross view the blockade as a violation of international humanitarian law.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military said that rocket was fired into southern Israel overnight. "A rocket fired from Gaza landed last night in the Eshkol region and caused no injuries or damage," a military spokesperson said. If confirmed, it would be the first rocket to have been fired in nearly a month and a half.