300 Gazans enter Egypt in first hour of Rafah opening

Palestinian official says 450 total cross, daily numbers expected to triple; only people, no goods allowed through gates; Kadima slams Netanyahu for allowing "end of blockade."

rafah 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
rafah 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Egypt eased travelrestrictions 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.
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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.