Egypt Set To Ease Gaza Border Crossing At Rafah

Egypt is set to ease the restrictions at its border with Gaza, allowing more Palestinians to cross. Women and children will be allowed to cross freely, as will men aged over 40. Men aged between 18 and 40 will still require a permit.

Egypt is set to ease the restrictions at its border with Gaza, allowing more Palestinians to cross.

The blockade has caused great hardship for Palestinians living in the Gaza StripWomen and children will be allowed to cross freely, as will men aged over 40. Men aged between 18 and 40 will still require a permit.

Egypt and Israel have blockaded the Gaza Strip since the militant Hamas movement took power there.

Israel fears weapons will be imported into Gaza, but Egypt insists it will conduct thorough searches.

The easing of restrictions at the Rafah border crossing is scheduled to begin at 0900 local time (0700 GMT) on Saturday.

Severe shortages

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says the move is another sign of Egypt's changing policy towards Israel and the Palestinians since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February.

Although the border will still be closed for trade, the opening of the Rafah crossing is expected to provide a major economic boost to Gaza.

Previously, only about 300 Palestinians were allowed out every day.

The latest move comes a month after Egypt pushed through a unity deal between the two main Palestinian factions - Fatah and Hamas - something Israel also opposed.

Egypt set to ease Gaza border crossing at Rafah

Fatah runs the West Bank, while Hamas governs Gaza.

Analysts say that with elections looming in Egypt the new policy is likely be popular with a public largely sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Egypt's co-operation in blockading Gaza was one of President Mubarak's most unpopular policies.

Egypt says the crossing will be open from 0900 to 2100 every day except Fridays and holidays.

Last year, Israel eased restrictions on goods entering Gaza, but severe shortages in the territory remain.

In 2010, the International Committee of the Red Cross said the blockade was a clear violation of international humanitarian law.

Hundreds of smuggling tunnels run under the Egyptian border with Gaza.

BBC