Egypt will close its breached border wall with Gaza today in coordination with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that blew it up, a senior Hamas leader said Saturday after meeting with Egyptian officials.
But Mahmoud Zahar said the closure would be temporary while the Egyptians search for a way to reopen the border. Hamas blew the wall open on Jan. 23 to end a seven-month Israeli and Egypt blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Egyptian officials were not available for comment on the Hamas claims. It was not clear whether Egypt was considering the group's demand for a say in running the Egypt-Gaza border.
Any role for the Islamic militants on the border would be sure to anger the international community and Hamas' archrival, the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, because it would amount to tacit recognition of Hamas rule in Gaza.
Hamas violently wrested control of the tiny seaside territory, home to 1.5-million Palestinians, in June, leaving Abbas controlling only the West Bank.
Since the border breach, hundreds of thousands of Gazans have flooded Egypt's border area, and Hamas has thwarted repeated attempts by Egypt to reseal the frontier.
On Saturday, Zahar said Egyptian officials told him they would restore order at the crossing. Zahar told the Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera that the Islamic group would cooperate with Egypt in its efforts.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, was expected to arrive in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials later Saturday. The international Mideast envoy, Tony Blair, was also planning a trip to the region in coming days to address the border standoff.
Hamas breached the border several days after Israel imposed a complete blockade on Gaza, with Egyptian backing, in response to a rocket barrage from Gaza on Israeli border towns. The blockade tightened the already severely restricted access to the territory that Israel and Egypt imposed after Hamas' Gaza takeover.
Last week, Egypt and Abbas endorsed restoring a 2005 border arrangement in which European monitors are deployed on the Palestinian side to prevent smuggling of weapons and militants, and Israel watched traffic by closed-circuit TV.
Hamas opposes the arrangement. The EU monitors are based in Israel, and Israel in the past frequently asked the monitors to stay away, citing security reasons, in effect shutting down border operations.
Arrests in Egypt: Egyptian security forces on Saturday arrested two Palestinians carrying a bomb in el-Massoura, a village about 2 miles west of the border with Gaza, a Sinai security official said. A police official in Cairo said the two had been trying to reach beach resorts in the southern Sinai. At least 17 Palestinians have been arrested in past days carrying weapons and explosives.