(photo credit: AP)
Rafik al-Hasanat, a senior member of Hamas who has been wanted by Israel for more than a decade, on Wednesday night returned to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing.
The terminal was opened for a few hours on Wednesday to allow hundreds of Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side to return home to the Gaza Strip. Hasanat is one of several Hamas fugitives who have returned to Gaza after Israel relinquished control over the Rafah border crossing.
A senior member of the armed wing of Hamas, Izzaddin Kassam, Hasanat fled to Egypt in 1993 after he learned that the IDF was searching for him because of his involvement in terror attacks. Since then he has been hiding in Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Jordan.
Hundreds of Hamas activists chanting slogans in support of the Islamic movement welcomed Hasanat home.
Sources close to Hamas said many of its activists, including top leaders, have managed to return to the Gaza Strip since the Israeli pullout. Last month one of the founders of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed al-Milh, returned to the Gaza Strip after spending 20 years in different Arab countries.
Shortly after the Israeli withdrawal, three top Hamas fugitives infiltrated into the Gaza Strip. One of them, Nihro Masoud of the Jabalya refugee camp, was one of the founders of Izzaddin Kassam. He fled to Egypt 14 years ago and spent most of the intervening time in Sudan.
The Rafah border crossing is expected to reopen on Friday following an agreement that was reached between the Palestinian Authority and Egypt.
The deal, brokered by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this month, calls for the stationing European Union monitors at the terminal.
Under the terms of the agreement, Palestinians below the age of 18 and over 40 will be able to travel through the border crossing without a visa. The terminal will also remain open 24 hours a day.
A ceremony scheduled for Friday will formally re-open the border crossing. PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas is expected to attend the ceremony together with Egyptian and United Nations officials.
PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said on Thursday that the 70 European monitors would be present at the border crossing only in the first week or ten days after its reopening.
Stressing that there would be no Israeli presence at the terminal, Abu Rudaineh said, "The European presence at the terminal is not an alternative to the Palestinian presence there. Nor do they represent Israel. The Palestinians will have the upper hand."