‘THERE WILL BE ‘BIG CHANGES’ IN EGYPT’S GAZA POLICY– Ambassador Yasser Othman tells reporters

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Egypt’s ambassador to the Palestinian territories Yasser Othman on Tuesday said there will be ‘big changes’ in Egypt’s policies towards the Gaza Strip.

Othman told reporters that Egyptian officials are considering a package of steps to facilitate the situation in the Gaza Strip.

The facilities will be applied to the Rafah crossing point between Gaza and Sinai, which is the only gate for the Gazans to the world that by-passes Israel.

Othman said the new changes will become applicable as soon as the security situation in northern Sinai stabilises and when Egypt agrees on new arrangements with the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007.

‘We deal with Gaza as a strategic depth’ for Egypt, Othman said, promising that the situation there will ‘change to the better and best.’

Earlier, Hamas commended Dr Nabil al-Arabi, the new Egyptian foreign minister, for statements he made demanding the blockade on Gaza be lifted.

Hamas expressed ‘hope that he will translate his positions into action now that he has assumed his new position.’

A Hamas statement commended Al-Arabi’s positions on the Gaza siege and his rejection of this ‘oppressive policy.’

The statement said: ‘We also commend his position on the damage that the Camp David agreement has caused the Palestinians.

‘The movement appreciates these honourable stances.

‘Hamas hopes that these positions will be translated into action through his new job and that this will represent the start of a new Egyptian foreign policy that safeguards Egypt’s national position and its pioneering role in matters pertaining to the Palestinian nation and people.’

Hamas media noted that Al-Arabi published an article in the Egyptian Al-Shuruq on February 19 in which he criticised the foreign policy of his predecessor Ahmad Abu-al-Ghayt and Egypt’s role in maintaining the Gaza blockade.

Dr Nabil Sha’th, Fatah Central Committee member and international relations commissioner, on Monday expressed more optimism and faith in Egypt’s role following the January 25 revolution, and ‘the change which has been achieved that will make the Palestinian cause safer.’

Within the framework of his first visit to Egypt after the revolution, Sha’th met with a number of Egyptian leaderships.

They included the leadership of the youth of the revolution at Al-Tahrir Square, Foreign Minister-designate Nabil al-Arabi, Ambassador Nabil Fahmi, and Dr Muhammad ElBaradei, in addition to the leaderships of the General Intelligence Service and a number of security figures.

During the meetings, the Egyptian leaderships of all trends stressed that Palestine and its cause are in the hearts and minds of all Egyptian people.

The leaderships stressed that Egypt will play a major role in bolstering the power cards of the Palestinian people in such a way that would enable the Palestinian people to restore their homeland, establish their independent state along the June 4, 1967, borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and bring back the refugees.

The leaderships stressed that they will seek to achieve Palestinian national unity.

During his meeting with the leadership of the security apparatuses, Sha’th discussed the problems facing the Palestinians who are residing in Egypt and those who are crossing through Egypt, in addition to the previous disgraceful treatment of Palestinians by the State Security Investigations Service.

The Egyptian leaderships promised to effect radical and positive change on the treatment of Palestinians within the next days.

Sha’th decided to leave his deputy Dr Husam Zamlat in Cairo to meet the largest possible number of youth leaderships and new political leaderships.

Also on Monday, the Palestinian ambassador in Cairo, Dr Barakat al-Farra, met the Muslim Brotherhood group’s leadership within the framework of his meetings with the major political forces in Egypt.

Sha’th was scheduled to meet with Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa to discuss various political developments in the region.

Meanwhile, Ma’an Network began a training course for Palestinian journalists on Tuesday entitled ‘Media Coverage in Times of Danger’.

Palestinian reporters and cameramen, working for several media outlets, will attend the first stage of the UNESCO-funded course.

Head of Ma’an’s Gaza office, Imad Eid, gave an opening brief, highlighting the need to train journalists to cope with daily stress, especially since most of the participants covered the latest Israeli military offensive on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead.

A UNESCO representative also gave a short speech expressing the importance of such training.

Stage one will run for five days, and the second stage is scheduled to take place in May.

A similar training course was held in Gaza in 2009.

• Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar told an audience in Sudan on Monday that the people of Gaza would triumph over the Israeli occupation and ‘raise the banner of Islam’ over Jerusalem.

Speaking at the eighth conference of the International Institute for Jerusalem, Zahhar said his party would ‘not quit until the banner of one God is raised over the occupied Islamic lands and injustice is lifted,’ a Hamas-linked website said.

‘The liberation of Jerusalem is closer than we can imagine. They used everything to besiege us; food, education … but we have broken the siege thanks to the righteous invocations and above all, the blessing of God,’ he continued.

Resistance would triumph, he continued, saying the Palestinian people would soon be able to re-enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and ‘turn the Knesset into another Tahrir Square.’

Zahhar spoke the day after Hamas leader in exile Khaled Mishaal addressed the conference, where he hailed the sweeping political changes in Egypt, which he said had given the Palestinian people their lives back.

‘Today we are witnessing Cairo returning to its natural state, after it disappeared from that state for a long time,’ the Palestinian leader said in a speech broadcast live on Sudanese state television.

• Tens of Thousands of Yemeni protesters were camped out in major cities on Tuesday, demanding the ousting of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The Yemeni president has rejected a plan for a transition this year, insisting that he will see out his current term, which expires in 2013.

Protesters gathered outside Sana’a university, as heavy security was deployed around the university campus and the presidential palace in the capital.

Protests have continued despite a call from Saleh on Monday for national dialogue, in a bid to end weeks of protests inspired by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that led to the ousting of long-term leaders.

Meanwhile, the foreign minister has urged international donors to put up to $6bn into state coffers over the next five years to help meet the demands of anti-government protesters.

‘What we need is really development and economic growth because the present political crisis is really as a result of the economic situation in Yemen,’ Abubakr al-Qirbi said after a meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers late on Monday in Abu Dhabi.

Qirbi said Yemen would present a five-year development plan later this month to the Friends of Yemen, a group of donor nations that includes European and Gulf Arab allies as well as the United States.

‘The deficit in the budget for the five-year plan is about $6bn,’ Qirbi said.

‘We hope that the GCC countries with the other donors will contribute really to the development plan and to finance the deficit in the government budget,’ he added.