The IDF plans to begin transferring the 6,000 Palestinians stranded in Sinai back into Gaza starting on Sunday, through a rarely-used crossing near the western Negev community of Nitzana, according to defense officials.
Meanwhile on Saturday, two Palestinians believed to be members of Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigades were shot and killed by the IDF as they tried to place a bomb along the Gaza-Israel security fence.
The Palestinians who have been stranded in Egypt since the Rafah crossing was closed in June following Hamas's takeover of Gaza are to be taken by Egyptian buses to Nitzana, where they will cross into Israel. From there, they will be ferried to the Erez crossing, where they will enter northern Gaza.
The Gaza Liaison Administration, headed by Col. Nir Press, had initially planned to use the Kerem Shalom crossing that connects southern Gaza, Israel and Egypt. That plan was discarded after Hamas threatened to shell the Palestinians as they entered the Gaza Strip.
"We couldn't take the risk of using Kerem Shalom," explained a senior defense official, who said the use of Nitzana on Sunday was dependant on the Egyptians, who would need to bus the stranded Palestinians to the crossing.
Upon entering Israel, the Palestinians will be inspected by officials from the Israel Airports Authority, which is also responsible for land crossings, and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency.)
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said Saturday night, however, that the Kerem Shalom crossing might still be used at a later date.
The officials also said Israel would supervise who was being allowed entry, and that in addition to making sure that wanted terrorists were not among those returning to Gaza, Israel would also ensure that those crossing would not be carrying bundles of dollars for Hamas.
The first group, comprising 627 Palestinians, will go to Gaza on Sunday and Monday, Palestinian Authority officials said. Their return has been delayed by a dispute over use of the Rafah terminal on the Gaza-Egypt border, closed since the start of the internal fighting that led to the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June.
Under a US-brokered agreement between Israel and the PA, the crossing was operated by Egypt and the Palestinians, with EU monitors deployed on the Palestinian side. During the Hamas takeover, the European monitors fled and Hamas gunmen took control of the terminal.
Israel and Egypt have refused to reopen the crossing as long as Hamas is on the border. The new PA government under Prime Minister Salaam Fayad tried to negotiate a one-time deal for those stranded in Egypt, but balked at Israel's proposals to reroute them through Kerem Shalom, which the Defense Ministry plans to turn into the primary pedestrian and supply crossing between Israel and Gaza.
Palestinian officials said they agreed to use the Nitzana crossing since it could not be turned into a permanent alternative to Rafah.
Hamas denounced the compromise, since it allows Israel to decide who can enter Gaza. Hamas officials and supporters will presumably not be allowed to enter through Israel.
"There is only the Rafah border crossing," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. "The use of any other border crossing increases Israeli control over the Gaza Strip."
Herb Keinon and AP contributed to the report.