(photo credit: REUTERS)
Egypt eased travel
restrictions for residents of Gaza on Saturday, opening the Rafah crossing on the Sinai-Gaza border after four years.
Egyptian envoy to the Palestinian territories Yasser Othman said that Egypt "would not let anyone interfere" with the opening of the Rafah crossing to regular pedestrian traffic, Army Radio reported.
Egypt announced on Thursday that, as of Saturday, the border crossing will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Fridays and official holidays. Palestinian men aged 18 to 40 will need visas to cross. Older men, boys and females of all ages will be able to travel without one. Some 300 people crossed from Gaza to Sinai in the first hour after the crossing opened on Saturday.RELATED:Hamas won’t oppose EU presence at border, official saysGov’t worries after Cairo plans to open Rafah crossing
By the end of the day a Palestinian border official said some 450 people had crossed through the Palestinian side of the border. Only 23 were turned back because of Egyptian security concerns, a Palestinian border official said.
The official said 450 was the total number of people able to cross in a day and a half last week.
I believe this a unique move and positive development," said Ghazi Hamad, Hamas's deputy foreign minister.
Thursday’s announcement of the move, which was immediately hailed by both Fatah and Hamas, was received with concern in Israel.
An officer from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the
Territories (COGAT) warned that it could lead to an increase in the flow
of weapons and terrorists from Egypt into Gaza.
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom slammed the planned reopening as “dangerous,” and urged the international community to prevent it.
The reopening of the sensitive border crossing –
especially without any independent monitoring – could enable Hamas to
transfer into Gaza larger quantities of weapons, as well as terrorists
who underwent training in Syria and Lebanon, the officer said.
“There are already vast quantities of weaponry being smuggled into the
Gaza Strip via the tunnels under the border with Egypt,” the officer
said. “If the border is opened, we can assume that still larger amounts
will be brought in.”
Othman was quoted by Army Radio as saying the opening of the crossing to pedestrians was an "internal Egyptian issue."Hamas said on Thursday
it hoped Rafah would be opened to enable goods to cross in the near
future, as well. Egypt is said to have reportedly assured Israel that
there are no such plans.
Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah official visiting the Gaza Strip, said the easing of travel for Gazans came as a result of the Palestinian reconciliation deal which "has made the job easier for Cairo ... as now they are dealing with one (Palestinian) entity".
"We are very happy, it was a brave decision by Egypt to open the crossing and to dismantle the prison imposed by Israel on the people (of Gaza)," he said.
Shaath rejected Israel's fears that the opening of the crossing was a dangerous development: "Opening this door does not mean Egypt wants to allow bombs and explosives ... Egypt wants to allow safe passage of individuals who want to conduct their lives."
Kadima on Saturday slammed the government of
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for allowing the opening of the Rafah
crossing, a move the opposition party said effectively ends the blockade of Gaza .
"The breaking of the blockade, with no coordination with Israel, and
against its will, constitutes a diplomatic failure of the Netanyahu
government - that because of its diplomatic weakness and inability to
create coordination and cooperation with international parties, has left
Israel isolated, in a position of weakened security, while Hamas has
gotten stronger," a statement released by the party said.
"Once again it has been proven that the Netanyahu government talks tough
against Hamas, but actually Hamas has become stronger than it ever was
under this regime," the statement added.
Khaled Abu Toameh and Yaakov Katz