Friday, June 04, 2010

Thousands of Gazans cross as Egypt keeps key border crossing open

RAFAH, Gaza Strip, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Egypt has on Friday kept Rafah crossing on its borders with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip open for the third consecutive day, and thousands of Gaza Strip residents had crossed to Egypt.

Egypt had on Tuesday suddenly decided to open Rafah terminal in two directions following Arab and Palestinian pressure to ease the more than three-year Israeli blockade imposed on the impoverished enclave right after Hamas seized control in June 2007.

The sudden reopening of Rafah crossing came a day after the Israeli naval forces attacked the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla, which was carrying campaigners from around 40 countries as well as medical aid and construction materials. Israel seized the flotilla and expelled the campaigners.

"In spite of the trauma the population suffered after the Freedom Flotilla was seized, they expressed happiness and satisfaction after the Egyptian decision to reopen the Rafah border crossing in two directions until a further notice," said Sami Muhana, a Gaza resident who traveled to Egypt on Friday.

Official Egyptian sources announced that reopening the crossing was decided to allow humanitarian and medical aid into the Gaza Strip, in addition to receiving patients who need urgent medical treatment in hospitals abroad and students who need to resume their education in Egypt.

The Interior Ministry of the deposed Hamas government called on the people of Gaza, mainly patients, students and people who hold other nationalities, to register at the Interior Ministry's offices in order to coordinate their travel to Egypt with the Egyptian authorities.

Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Islamic Hamas movement welcomed the Egyptian decision to reopen Rafah crossing for the besieged population of the Gaza Strip. Abbas said he thanks and appreciates the decision, while Hamas said it hopes the crossing will be permanently opened.

Fawzi Barhoum, the Gaza-based Hamas spokesman, said in a press statement that his movement "is looking forward that Egypt keeps the crossing permanently opened," adding "the Egyptian side hasn't informed us anything about a specific date to close down the crossing again."

Mahmoud al-Zahar, the senior Hamas leader, considered the Egyptian decision to reopen the Rafah crossing "a good step forward," adding "we hope that this step will be followed by other steps, such as keeping the crossing permanently opened."

Operating the crossing between Egypt and Gaza is tied to a U.S. sponsored treaty reached in 2005. Egypt, the Palestinians and Israel signed on the agreement to operate Rafah border crossing with the presence of European Union (EU) inspectors, while Israel observes the crossing through cameras.

However, the crossing stopped operating after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, where the EU inspectors left and Abbas security forces, which were holding control of the crossing, were routed by Hamas militias. But Egypt has temporarily reopened the crossing for several days for humanitarian cases.

Meanwhile, Palestinian sources working at Rafah crossing said that around 2,000 people, including stranded Palestinians managed to cross Rafah terminal either heading to Egypt or returning back to Gaza. The sources said that all of them are traveling for humanitarian reasons.

The sources also said that around 15 trucks loaded with tents, electric generators, blankets and clothes were allowed into the Gaza Strip over the last three days.

Haj Mohamed Abu al-Sa'd, who returned to Gaza coming from Egypt through Rafah crossing, said he did not find any difficulty in crossing from Egypt into Gaza, adding "I hope that Egypt will keep the crossing opened to make it easier for the population."

After Israel imposed the blockade on the Gaza Strip, and prohibited various kinds of goods, food products and raw materials for construction and industry, the Palestinians dug thousands of tunnels underneath the borderline between Gaza and Egypt, where various kinds of goods had been smuggled.

However, Israel believed that lifting the blockade would give Hamas and Iran a political victory and would undermine the opportunities of reaching a peace agreement.

by Saud Abu Ramadan, Emad Drimly

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