Gaza still waiting on Egypt backing
on 26/08/2012 10:32:28
The militant Hamas had hoped the Islamists who took charge in Egypt this summer - fellow members of the region's Muslim Brotherhood - would swiftly turn the shared border crossing into a free-flowing trade route, ending Gaza's five-year isolation from the world and making the tunnels obsolete.
However, a senior Hamas official acknowledged that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has not promised dramatic change, even as he tries to distance himself from the policy of his ousted predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, of keeping Gaza sealed.
"I think it's a mistake that some people expected a lot from the new political regime (in Egypt)," Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister of Gaza and a key Hamas point man with Egypt, said in an interview this week.
"Egypt is a big country and Gaza is not the only problem for Egypt."
Gaza became a bigger problem for Egypt after an August 5 attack in which gunmen in the Sinai Peninsula, next to Gaza, killed 16 Egyptian soldiers.
That raised new worries about the smuggling of weapons and militants through border tunnels, and Egypt is investigating whether the assailants had ties to Gaza.
Hamas denies anyone from Gaza was involved and said it is co-operating with the Egyptian investigation, but senior Hamas figures also complained about a subsequent Egyptian border clampdown.
Despite the Egyptian security sweep, Mr Morsi has assured Hamas leaders Egypt wants a new border regime. Some in Hamas and even some Egyptian officials raised the idea of a free trade zone between Egypt and Gaza.
However, open cross-border trade could trigger unintended consequences. Stronger Gaza-Egypt ties would deepen Gaza's economic and political separation from the West Bank, located on the opposite side of Israel, and undercut already remote chances of melding the two areas into a Palestinian state.
Trade ties could also hurt Egypt's own attempts to broker a unity deal between Hamas and its main rival, West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
An open border to Egypt would boost Gaza's hobbled economy, strengthen Hamas and might make reconciliation even less desirable for the Islamic militants who balked in the past at giving Mr Abbas a renewed say in Gaza for the sake of unity. Hamas seized the territory from Mr Abbas by force in 2007.