Egypt claims it has significantly eased procedures for passenger crossing to and from the Gaza Strip, thus fulfilling an election promise, but Palestinians denied any essential change has been felt on the ground.

Egyptian ambassador to the Palestinian Authority Yasser Othman told  Egyptian daily Al-Ahram Monday that significant modifications have been put in place over the past few days to ease travel for Palestinians wishing to cross into Egypt. Promising more improvements in the days to come, Othman said that procedural changes at the Rafah Border Crossing come “as part of Egypt’s policy of supporting the Palestinian people and easing the siege imposed on them.”

A Palestinian bus enters Egypt from the Gaza Strip, May 27 (photo credit: A Palestinian woman at the Rafah Border Crossing, May 27 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)

A Palestinian bus enters Egypt from the Gaza Strip, May 27 (photo credit: A Palestinian woman at the Rafah Border Crossing, May 27 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)

Many in Gaza celebrated the victory of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, believing that an Islamist government would be more sympathetic to Palestinian needs. But Palestinian observers say the changes at the border are merely tactical, and follow a complete closure of the crossing for one week during Egypt’s election period.

“There is nothing new at the border,” Samir Zaqout, a field work coordinator at Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza told The Times of Israel. “Two weeks ago the Egyptians closed the crossing completely, which increased traffic at the border. Now they returned to the old timetable.”

Zaqout said that Palestinians can only cross into Egypt after first registering at Gaza’s Hamas-run Ministry of Interior. Travelers are allocated a date when they can cross over into Egypt, with daily quotas allowing between 300 and 400 crossings a day in each direction. Zaqout noted that Palestinian travelers are often forced to pay bribes or use personal connections at the border in order not to be turned back.

Many in Gaza celebrated the victory of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, believing that an Islamist government would be more sympathetic to Palestinian needs

“Palestinians cannot simply travel to Egypt spontaneously. Summer months are especially crowded and dates can be entirely unavailable,” said Zaqout. He added that over the past few days Egypt has increased the daily quota of Palestinians to roughly 1,000 a day.

The Rafah Border Crossing has been fulfilling 80 percent of Palestinian traveler needs since it was partially opened by the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in May 2011, said Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, an Israeli NGO that deals with Palestinian freedom of movement.

“It is still too early to tell whether anything has changed as the Egyptians are still dealing with the traveler backlog,” Bashi said.

Zaqout noted that prior to the eruption of the second intifada in September 2000, the Rafah crossing — then controlled by Israel — was open 24 hours a day. Today the crossing only allows passengers through from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., shutting down completely at around 5 p.m.  He said that Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority have all colluded to make life difficult for Gazan travelers in an attempt to punish the Hamas government that has been in control of the Gaza Strip since June 2007.

‘We have very high hopes that President Morsi will remove the blockade on Gaza as he promised’

Maher Abu-Sabha, director of the Rafah Crossing, reminded the Palestinian News Network (PNN) Monday of Mohammed Morsi’s election promises to ease the blockade over the people of Gaza.

“We have very high hopes that President Morsi will remove the blockade on Gaza as he promised,” Abu-Sabha told PNN. “We would like the Rafah Crossing to become like Egypt’s 13 other border crossings which work around the clock. If that happens, there will be no more need for passenger registration.”

Abu-Sabha told the Hamas-affiliated daily Felesteen that over 1,500 Palestinians were allowed into Egypt on June 30, but added that “despite these improvements at the Rafah crossing, we are not pleased with the current situation there.”

Hamas’ s spokesman rushed to congratulate the Egyptians for the increased passenger traffic. Salah Bardawil said the new numbers of Palestinians allowed to enter Egypt are “historic.”