Egypt’s announcement on Wednesday that it would open its border with the Gaza Strip “on a daily basis” starting tomorrow was hailed by Gaza’s Hamas rulers yesterday.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said the move was “a courageous and responsible decision which falls in line with Palestinian and Egyptian public opinion.”
“We hope that it is a step towards the complete lifting of the siege on Gaza,” he said in a statement.
The move will give Gazans a gateway to the world because Rafah is the only crossing that does not pass through Israel.
The crossing will be open for eight hours a day from 9am, with the exception of Fridays and holidays, with an Egyptian security official saying it would be for people only, and not for the passage of goods.
Until now, it had been open only intermittently, mainly for Palestinians who could prove humanitarian need.
The move was hailed by Israeli NGO Gisha, which campaigns for freedom of movement for Palestinians. It was also praised by the EU, which had briefly stationed observers at the crossing under terms of a 2005 agreement between Israel and Egypt that was brokered by the US.
“The EU stands ready to reactivate the EUBAM Rafah mission, once political and security conditions allow, in order to ensure the EU third party role at the Rafah crossing point,” it said. “Political consultations are ongoing with the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Israel in this regard.”
Under terms of the 2005 deal, the crossing was put under Egyptian and Palestinian control, with European observers and Israeli camera surveillance to prevent the free passage of weapons or personnel into the enclave.
However, Israel has expressed concern over the Egyptian initiative, with Israeli Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai telling Israeli public radio it would create “a very problematic situation.”
Plans to open the crossing on a permanent basis were first announced at the end of last month, a day after Hamas reached a surprise reconciliation deal with its Fatah rivals who control the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
The Rafah crossing has remained largely shut since June 2006, when Israel imposed a tight blockade on the territory after militants there snatched Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held. The blockade was tightened a year later when Hamas seized control of the territory, ousting forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority.
The move suggested a further policy shift since the overthrow of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, whose government cooperated with the Jewish state in enforcing a blockade on the Gaza Strip and has a 1979 peace treaty with Israel.