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Report: Egypt ends visa restrictions for Palestinians

July 23, 2012 12:24 P.M. (Updated: July 24, 2012 10:23 P.M.)
NEW YORK (Ma’an) -- Egyptian officials announced Monday that Palestinians will no longer need visas to enter the country, ending part of a five-year blockade on the Gaza Strip, The Associated Press reported.

Gazans will now be able to leave the coastal enclave freely. The decision also applies to Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Officials at Cairo's airport said they have received instructions to allow Palestinians of all ages to enter Egypt without any procedural impediments.

Deportation rulings for Gazans in Egypt were also canceled, sources told AP.

Security sources told Ma’an that Egyptian authorities were worried about opening the Rafah crossing for Palestinians due to the unstable security situation in the Sinai peninsula.

A Palestinian border official at Rafah told Ma'an that the Egyptian side has not informed them of any new arrangements or regulations.

Ayyoub Abu Shaar told Ma'an that 800-1000 passengers leave Gaza via Rafah everyday. According to regulations, which he says are still in place, men aged between 18-40 require a visa to cross into Egypt.

No formal announcement was made by Egypt's government.

In March, a spokesman for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood said that opening the border with Gaza was a priority for the group.

"I want the crossing to open completely, so that whoever wants to travel from Gaza can come to Egypt," said Mahmoud Ghozlan.

"We support opening the crossing for import and export."

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas's Gaza government said recently that he was confident Egypt's new president Muhammad Mursi would shield the coastal enclave from Israeli attack and fully open its borders to end a trade blockade.

The Gazan Islamists long complained that his predecessor Hosni Mubarak, ousted from power last year in a popular revolt, sided not just with Israel, but also with their political rival -- President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement.

Israel tightened a land and sea blockade on Gaza in 2007 after Hamas took control of the coastal strip, restricting the movement of goods and the 1.7 million residents out of the 360 square kilometer territory.

Reuters contributed to this report
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