Egypt arranging Fatah return to W. Bank

Over 300 Palestinians fled Gaza; Rafah crossing closed since Hamas takeover.

Egypt is trying to arrange passage to the West Bank for more than 300 Palestinians from the Fatah group who fled the Hamas takeover in Gaza, Palestinian and Egyptian security officials said Monday. Egyptians and Palestinians have agreed to "ease the trip back to the West Bank" for some 340 security officials close to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, said a Palestinian official at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The crossing has been closed since Hamas took it over last week, and dozens of civilians could be seen stranded on the Egyptian side Monday. A Palestinian security official in the West Bank town of Ramallah confirmed the procedure to repatriate Fatah loyalists had begun. He said the Palestinian officials are to get temporary Egyptian travel documents, then fly to Jordan before heading to the West Bank. Palestinians are still trying to work out arrangements with Jordan, but expect the people to start traveling in the next two days, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media. An Egyptian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reasons, confirmed that the Fatah personnel _including 13 wounded being treated in an Egyptian military hospital_ would "return soon to the Palestinian territories." Samir Mashharawi, a Fatah security official, said there were about 400 Fatah loyalists including women and civilians now on Egypt's side of the border, but denied all would head back to the West Bank. "There's no decision to where these people will travel after Egypt," he Mashharawi. "Each one of them has his own destination," he said, adding that Palestinians were working with Egypt to deliver travel documents to these people. Fatah members fled Gaza when the Preventive Security Service's headquarters were taken by militants from the radical Hamas group late Thursday. Egypt's state-run news agency, MENA, reported that scores of Palestinian civilians had continued to flee to Egypt from Gaza over the weekend.