Cablegate: Update On Customs Issues at Rafah Border


DE RUEHEG #1738/01 1581543
R 071543Z JUN 07





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Emboffs met on May 31 with Egyptian
officials at the Rafah border. The officials indicated that
the border opens only infrequently, taxing border staff's
ability to process the large number of travelers attempting
to cross during these short openings. Gazans who cross
during a short opening of the border often end up spending
several days in Egypt, waiting for the next opening to return
to Gaza. Movement of commercial goods remains an unrealized
goal, although individuals often carry several large bags
across the border, the contents of which may be used for
commercial purposes. Travelers are required to fill out
Customs declaration forms, and disclose any amount of
currency over USD 10,000. A traveler not carry any currency
into Egypt is only allowed to carry out a maximum of USD
3,000. Egyptian officials indicated that they had not seen
any travelers carrying large amounts of cash across the
border in several months. Representatives of the EU Border
Assistance Mission (BAM) echoed these statements and
indicated that Palestinian officials on the Gaza side of the
border handling processing during border openings relatively
well. End summary.

2. (U) On May 31 Econoff and Treasury Attache met with
Colonel Ashraf el-Eweny, an Egyptian border official with the
military intelligence branch LAWIO (Liaison With
International Organizations) at the Rafah border crossing to
discuss current issues at the border. Ashraf noted that
given the continued periodic violence in Gaza, the border is
open infrequently, and news of an opening is broadcast in
Gaza the day before to alert those who need to cross. He
estimated that the border was open on average roughly twice a
week for a few hours each time. The infrequent and
unpredictable openings lead to a strong surge of travelers
when the border does open and Ashraf noted that several
thousand travelers may cross on a day when the border is
open, heavily taxing the capacity of the border staff to
process them efficiently. Ashraf did note that the passenger
terminal is open around the clock so that it can be ready to
process people if the Palestinian side opens on short notice.
Due to the short openings of the border, travelers usually
try to cross into Egypt and back into Gaza in one trip. If
travelers are not able to cross back into Gaza on the same
day, however, they can remain stuck on the Egyptian side of
the border for several days before another opening allows
them to cross back into Gaza. Numerous crossers also end up
staying in tents in the Philadelphi corridor, the strip of
land in between the Egyptian side of the border and the Gaza
side of the border. Those who find themselves in this area
have usually exited Egypt but been denied re-entry into Gaza.

3. (U) Commercial movement of goods, as envisioned in the
Agreement on Movement and Access document, remains an
unrealized ideal. Individuals are allowed to bring 2-3 large
bags across, much of which likely does contain items for
commercial purposes (reftel). Customs officials are
authorized to search all travelers and their possessions, and
periodically confiscate smuggled goods such as tobacco or
ammunition. Customs officials told Emboffs that Palestinian
travelers are required to fill out a Customs declaration form
that asks if they are carrying more than USD 10,000 in
currency. This is true for all travelers entering all
airports, seaports and land crossing into Egypt. Egyptian
law does not allow for confiscation of sums over USD 10,000,
provided the currency is declared, but those travelers
carrying more than USD 10,000 into Egypt are not allowed to
carry more than that amount out of Egypt when returning to
Gaza, unless it can be documented that it was obtained

4. (SBU) According to Customs officials, many travelers
cross the border with no currency at all. In these cases,
Customs authorities, following a special procedure specific
to the Rafah border, only permit travelers to carry USD 3,000
back across the border. Sums larger than USD 3,000 are
confiscated, and the cash turned over to the judicial system
for processing. Travelers can attempt to get their cash back
through the legal system, but the money ends up transferred
to the Ministry of Finance if the traveler is unsuccessful.
Although they could not provide specific quantities, Customs
officials indicated that they have not seen large amounts of
money crossing the border in the last several months.
Colonel El-Eweny added that no PA officials have crossed the
border since PA PM Haniyeh attempt to cross the border four
months ago. When asked about procedures in the event that
they noticed suspicious behavior, the Customs officials
indicated that they conducted secondary searches and filled
out reports which were sent to Customs authorities in Cairo.
They did not know how/if such reports were received or
processed by the Central Bank's Money Laundering Combating

5. (SBU) Representatives from the EU Border Assistance
Mission told Econoff that Palestinian authorities on the Gaza
side of the border are operating relatively well. The BAM
reps echoed Colonel El-Eweny's statements, indicating that
they have not recently seen any travelers carrying large
amounts of cash coming across the border.

© Scoop Media

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