Egypt opened on Saturday its largely sealed border with Gaza under control of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority for the first time since 2007, raising residents’ hopes for easygoing traveling in and out of the impoverished enclave.
An Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal last month formally restored Palestinian President Abbas’s administrative control of Gaza, including its border crossings with Israel and Egypt, after a 10-year schism with Hamas.
The crossing had opened at 0700 GMT and was expected to stay open for three days, AFP quoted a Palestinian official at the Rafah crossing as saying.
"Egypt will open the crossing for humanitarian cases registered with the interior ministry," the official said, adding that civilian and security personnel on the Palestinian side were all employees of the reconciliation government headed by Rami Hamdallah.
Palestinians trust the pact will ease Gaza’s economic troubles and help them present a united front in their drive for statehood, although the details of implementation of the deal have yet to be worked out fully.
Citing security concerns, Egypt and Israel maintain tight restrictions at their Gaza borders. Hamas, regarded by the West as a terrorist group, seized the enclave in 2007 after fighting forces loyal to Abbas.
Under the terms of a Palestinian reconciliation agreement reached last month, Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas are supposed to cede civil power to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority by December 1.
As a first step, Hamas quit positions at three Gaza crossings and handed them over to Palestinian Authority employees on Nov. 1, a vital move to encouraging Israel and Egypt to ease their restrictions on the movement of goods and people.
The deal is expected to lead to more regular opening of the Rafah crossing.
Witnesses said at least five buses loaded with passengers crossed over to the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing on Saturday. Hamas-appointed policemen had checked travelers’ documents in a separate hall outside Rafah.
Palestinians are hoping the crossing will operate full-time, as it had been doing until 2007. About 30,000 Gazans have applied for entry to Egypt in the past few months, according to the Palestinian Interior Ministry.
Egypt will host further talks with Hamas, Fatah and other factions next week on Nov. 21 to discuss major reconciliation issues, including security arrangements and a possible date for Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections.