Egypt rejects free trade zone along Gaza border, UK newspaper reports

Egypt has reportedly rejected a Hamas-proposed free trade zone along the border with Gaza, pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi quoted official Palestinian sources as saying Thursday.

Prime Minister Hesham Qandil told Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip who visited Cairo last week, of Egypt's decision, the sources said.

Qandil reportedly said the free trade zone would isolate Gaza as an independent entity from the rest of the Palestinian territories.

The same sources said the Egyptian government fears that Israel would exploit a free trade zone as a way to push Gaza's economic problems onto Egypt.

The newspaper also quoted Nimer Hammad, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as saying that Egypt has informed Hamas of the decision.

“Our brothers in Egypt know the risks of the issue of the Gaza Strip being directed to Egypt,” Hammad was quoted as saying.

The proposed zone would have extended 1 km into Gaza and 8 km into Egypt.

“It is not about money,” Hammad said, adding that any free zone would require strategic thinking.

If established, the free trade zone would have become an alternative to the underground tunnels used to illegally smuggle goods into Gaza, which has been sealed off by Israel since 2007.

Egypt increased efforts to destroy the tunnels after an attack that killed 16 Egyptian security officers and border guards in early August and raised concerns about Sinai security.

Haniyeh had told Egyptian officials earlier this month that his government was ready to close all tunnels if border crossings were opened or a free trade zone established.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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