Just four days after the much-heralded opening of the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Sinai to free passage, Cairo virtually shut it down Tuesday, May 31, by a series of tight bureaucratic restrictions on Palestinian exit and entry.
debkafile's military and Washington sources disclose that Military Council Chairman Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi personally signed the new orders in response to an insistent US demand based on the information that since the Rafah crossing opened to free passage Saturday, May 28, Palestinian and al Qaeda terrorists had swarmed through and were roaming at large across Sinai and laying the Suez Canal and its coastal cities open to attack. Washington warned him that terrorists still unlisted by Western or Egyptian counter-terror agencies would be free to reach Egypt, carry out attacks and return to the Gaza Strip unhindered unless careful restrictions were imposed to weed them out.
Tuesday, May 31, Tantawi informed Washington that new restrictions virtually shutting down the Rafah crossing were in place. Egypt then acceded to a US request to receive an Israeli defense official and discuss security coordination between Cairo and Jerusalem around their borders.
Amos Gilad, political adviser at the Israeli Defense Ministry, arrived in Cairo Wednesday and held talks with Egyptian officials, including intelligence minister Murad Muwafi, who briefed him on the new security measures at the Rafah border crossing, as first revealed here by debkafile's military sources:
1. Egypt has handed the Hamas government a blacklist of 5,000 Palestinians barred from access to the Rafah border post and entry to Egypt. It covers the entire operations levels of the military arms of Hamas, Jihad Islami, the Palestinian "Fronts" and other extremist organizations based in the Gaza Strip.
2. Daily passage is limited to a quota of 400 – compared with 1,000-2,000 Palestinians who accessed the crossing in its first three days.
3. Palestinians seeking to travel for medical treatment will first be examined by an Egyptian medical panel which must approve their applications.
4. Cairo wants the list of 400 candidates for passage submitted in advance and does not promise permits for them all.
When informed of the new restrictions, Hamas leaders hit the ceiling and threatened Egypt's military rulers with painful payback. Mahmoud a-Zahar, a top Hamas official in Gaza, was especially aggrieved. The news reached him in Damascus where he had boasted of Hamas-Gaza's success in achieving free passage between the Palestinian enclave and Egypt. Its leaders are now threatening, among other punitive measures, to have its troops shut down the Rafah crossing hermetically and show the world "the real face" of the military rulers of Egypt towards the Palestinians.