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Monday, April 16, 2012

Egypt, Hamas to establish free trade zone?

The Hamas-based Palestine Times newspaper is reporting that Egypt and Hamas are close to agreeing to create a free-trade zone on the border in Rafah.

The article makes it sound like the Gaza and Egyptian chambers of commerce agreed to the deal, which would set aside areas of Rafah in both Gaza and Egypt for the zone. It also says that eventually Gaza businessmen would be able to import and export goods through the Egyptian port at El Arish.

What the article was thin on was any sense that the agreement was approved by the Egyptian government. It sounds more than a bit nebulous right now, but it is worth following.

At the moment, there is no mechanism for Gaza manufacturers to export goods through Egypt, and no such initiative had been discussed. The Rafah crossing is meant only for people, not goods, and Egypt has shown no desire to rebuild it. Hamas tried to pressure Egypt to retool Rafah to allow fuel imports and Egyptian authorities adamantly refused, insisting that any fuel from Egypt go through the Kerem Shalom crossing near the Egyptian/Israeli/Gaza border.