erez crossing 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel allowed 75 Palestinians out of Gaza on Sunday to resume lives abroad cut short by Hamas' violent seizure of the coastal strip two months ago.
More than 4,000 Palestinians with overseas work and study permits have been living in fear of losing badly needed jobs and academic credits after Gaza's borders were closed due to the Islamist group's takeover.
Several hundred foreign nationals and Palestinians with dual citizenship, as well as a few Palestinians working and studying abroad, had already been permitted to cross through Israeli territory en route to other points. But Sunday's departure from Gaza was the first by a large group of Palestinians with foreign permits.
They passed through the Erez crossing into Israel after going through an Israeli security check, then were bused to a southern border crossing with Egypt 140 kilometers (90 miles) away.
"It was an experiment today to see how it goes," said Shlomo Dror, an IDF spokesman who reported that 75 Palestinians crossed. "If it went smoothly it will be a temporary solution to allow humanitarian cases out, until a permanent solution is found." Palestinian officials said 25 others were turned back with no explanation.
The firing of mortar shells at Erez by Palestinian operatives on Saturday "makes things more difficult," he said.
Khamis Nemr, 38, who works in the United Arab Emirates, was among those approved to leave. Nemr said he had been visiting his family in Gaza when Hamas took over, and needed to get back to the UAE by Aug. 31,when his residency permit expires.
"I can't believe that I will be able to get back," Nemr said. "I thought I had lost my future because my residency permit will end."
Hussein al-Sheikh, director of the Palestinian Authority's civil affairs office, said thousands of trapped Palestinians were expected to leave Gaza this week. Dror said only that many more would be expected to leave if the trial run proves successful.
Sunday's departure was arranged between Israeli officials and the government of moderate PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, formed in the West Bank after Hamas seized Gaza.
Sari Bashi of the Israeli human rights group Gisha said Gaza's Rafah crossing with Egypt must also be opened to allow Palestinians free passage out of Gaza.
"Letting hundreds of people leave by bus is an important relief measure, but it's far from adequate," Bashi said.
Hamas officials also demanded that the Rafah crossing be opened. Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu called the alternative route to Egypt through Israel a "conspiracy of Abbas and his Ramallah government against the people of Gaza."
Hamas has claimed that Abbas' government, made up of pro-Western Fatah officials, does not want the crossings opened because that would help the Islamic group hold on to power in Gaza.