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Gaza hails Egypt, eyes blockade lift

Wed., Feb. 23, 2011, midnight

RAFAH, Gaza Strip – A rare euphoric mood is sweeping through the Gaza Strip, where people are hoping the downfall of Hosni Mubarak will give the coastal territory a chance to get out from under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has stifled the economy.

Throughout the Middle East, the Egyptian president’s ouster Feb. 11 has been greeted as a sign of hope – mostly by pro-democracy activists trying to topple their authoritarian rulers. But in Gaza it’s seen as a chance to ease the widespread unemployment and international isolation residents believe is caused by the blockade that began in 2007.

“We have been waiting for this day for years,” said Jamil Saher, a 22-year-old university student.

Signs of celebration dot the tiny territory, which is squeezed between Egypt to the south and Israel to the north and east.

Small black-red-and-white Egyptian flags flutter from cars and shop entrances. Pro-Hamas television broadcasts obsessively about Egypt – which ruled Gaza from 1948 to ’67 – in its current affairs programs.

Their hopes for an end to the blockade could well be dashed, and at least in the short-term it seems doubtful Egypt will change its policies. The military ruling council that stepped in after Mubarak is slowly moving the country toward promised elections – it announced a new Cabinet on Tuesday – but is probably disinclined to jump into foreign policy.

And a new government would have reasons to keep the border tightly guarded, even though the blockade is unpopular with the Egyptian public.

For now, Israeli defense officials say Egypt’s caretaker government is upholding the blockade.

But the future is uncertain, and they fear weapons or militants could enter Gaza if the blockade is lifted.


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