ElBaradei criticizes underground Gaza barrier

ElBaradei criticizes underground Gaza barrier

CAIRO: Head of the National Coalition for Change Mohamed ElBaradei criticized the building of a steel barrier beneath the border between Egypt and Gaza, saying it has harmed Egypt’s reputation.

In an interview with the Palestine Information Center Monday, the former IAEA chief said that the building of the underground wall is perceived as Egyptian complicity in the Israeli siege of Gaza, in place since Hamas took over the territory in June 2007.

ElBaradei said that the best solution for the Gaza border was the closure of the underground tunnels used for smuggling goods into the impoverished strip, and opening the Rafah crossing permanently, not intermittently as Egypt has done over the past three years.

He also called for a free trade zone to be put in place in Rafah where Palestinians could go buy goods freely before returning to Gaza.

Work on the underground barrier has intensified in recent weeks as it nears areas renowned for the number of smuggling tunnels.

Egypt began building the underground barrier earlier this year, but at first refused to confirm that it was doing so. Later, it refused to say that it was a wall, but rather an extension of the barbed wire fence running across the border over ground.

ElBaradei also spoke of the Palestinian issue in general during the interview, claiming that it was at its lowest ebb. He criticized Israel for refusing to move forward in the peace process, claiming that it had become a joke.

He also said that Israel only understands the language of force, and that the Arabs should back their peace proposals with the language of force and defiance.

“We have been talking about peace for the past 20 years but no progress is witnessed in the Palestine cause,” he said.

ElBaradei has returned to Egypt after leaving his IAEA post to stir the political waters in his home country, hinting that he might consider running for president in the 2011 elections and calling for constitutional change.

He has set up the National Coalition for Change with a number of opposition figures to call first and foremost for changes in the constitution, specifically the articles that govern the viability of presidential candidates.

Secretary of Information at the ruling National Democratic Party Ali Eldin Hilal said in a lecture at Cairo University Monday that Egypt’s problems will not be solved with constitutional amendments and those calling for it did not “live in reality.”

He said that Egypt’s future problems revolved around water poverty and a continued increase in the population level.

Member of the National Coalition for Change George Ishaq told Daily News Egypt Monday in response to Hilal’s comments, “We want change because the current regime ruined our lives, they haven’t looked to the future for thirty years, are they going to start now?”

“Hilal’s comments are wrong and if the amendments we are calling for aren’t made to ensure free and fair elections then nothing will change because they will not change,” he added.