Egypt: Rafah closed until Schalit freed

Hamas official says Cairo's condition unacceptable, claims Egypt promised to reopen border.

egypt rafah gaza 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
egypt rafah gaza 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
The Egyptian government has informed Hamas that it will not reopen the Rafah border crossing until the movement releases kidnapped IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit, a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip said Thursday. The official described the Egyptian condition as "completely unacceptable" and claimed that the Egyptians had promised to reopen the border crossing within four weeks after the cease-fire agreement that was reached nearly two months ago between Israel and Hamas. "They said the border would be opened if Hamas abided by the cease-fire and stopped the rocket attacks on Israel," the Hamas official told The Jerusalem Post by phone. According to the official, the Egyptians are "afraid" to open the Rafah terminal for fear of being "reprimanded" by Israel, the Americans and the Palestinian Authority. "They are all afraid that the reopening of the border would strengthen Hamas and weaken the Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah," he added. "[PA President] Mahmoud Abbas is also exerting heavy pressure on Egypt not to reopen Rafah. He doesn't want Hamas to be in control of the Palestinian side of the terminal. He [Abbas] wants his men to return to the terminal, as was the case before June 2007." A senior Egyptian government official told Hamas leaders earlier this week that even if Cairo agreed to reopen the Rafah border, it would do so only under the terms of the 2005 US-brokered agreement that gave Abbas's security forces exclusive control over the terminal, the Hamas official said. "We're not completely opposed to the deployment of some of Abbas's loyalists at the border, but we insist that such a move be done in coordination with the legitimate Hamas government," he explained. The Hamas official quoted the Egyptian representative as saying that as far as Egypt was concerned, Israel still bore full responsibility for the situation inside the Gaza Strip. "The Egyptian position is that the reopening of the Rafah border crossing would exempt Israel from fulfilling its duties toward the residents of the Gaza Strip," he said. "The Egyptians also told us that if we wanted to import fuel, gas and food, we should do so only through Israel because they insist that the Rafah terminal be used only for the passage of civilians." Asked if Hamas were holding secret talks with Israel over a prisoner exchange, the Hamas official would neither confirm nor deny rumors of such negotiations. Over the past few weeks, several Hamas officials have been critical of the role Egypt has been playing in the negotiations over the release of Schalit. Some have even suggested replacing the Egyptians with mediators from Qatar or Germany. The Hamas officials claim the Egyptians are "biased" in favor of Israel and are putting pressure on the movement to soften its position over the case of Schalit. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar told reporters in Gaza Thursday that his movement's strategy was not to burn all bridges with Egypt. He also said that as far as Hamas was concerned, Egypt remained the main party authorized to act as a mediator in the talks with Israel.