CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt intends to open its border with Gaza permanently to ease life for Palestinians under an Israeli blockade but the mechanics of such a step are still being worked out, the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.
The initiative, received coolly in Israel, suggested a further Egyptian policy shift since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak, whose government cooperated with the Jewish state in enforcing the blockade on the Islamist Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Under Mubarak, Egypt only sporadically opened up the Rafah border crossing for food and medicine, or to let through people, mainly those seeking medical treatment or traveling to study from the area which is home to about 1.5 million Palestinians.
That system has broadly stayed in place since Mubarak was pushed out on February 11.
“The intention is there to open it on a permanent basis to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians, but all the mechanics on how it is going to work are under study,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Menha Bakhoum told Reuters.
She said the issue was being studied “at all levels” but did not say when this might be implemented.
Israel, which had earlier voiced hope that the clampdown on the Egypt-Gaza border would remain in place, was circumspect about Sunday’s announcement from Cairo.
“The Egyptians are free to do what they want on their border, of course, but we are working on the assumption that, if only for the sake of their own national security, they will ensure weapons and terrorists do not pass into Gaza from the Sinai, or in the other direction,” an Israeli official said.
Egypt has brokered a deal to end a four-year-old feud between Hamas and U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, due to be signed this week, and Cairo has signaled it is ready for closer diplomatic relations with Iran that have been severed for about three decades.
Analysts say the new rulers in Cairo are shifting policy away from the Mubarak era, in part to gain credibility amongst a largely pro-Palestinian population.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby last week called the blockade on Gaza “disgraceful” and told Al Jazeera television that Egypt would look into ways to open the border in 10 days.
Bakhoum, in comments carried by the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, said the 10 days Elaraby referred to was the period Egypt needed to study the mechanisms to open the border.
Bakhoum also said in comments reported by Al-Ahram that reviewing policies after an uprising that toppled Mubarak did not mean Cairo would stop honoring international commitments -- a reference to its 1979 peace treaty with Israel
Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Matthew Jones