GAZA (Reuters) - The Egypt-Gaza border opened under control of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority for the first time since 2007 on Saturday, raising residents’ hopes for easier passage in and out of the impoverished enclave.
An Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal last month formally restored Palestinian President Abbas’s administrative control of Gaza, including its border crossings with Israel and Egypt, after a 10-year schism with Islamist Hamas.
Palestinians hope the pact will ease Gaza’s economic woes and help them present a united front in their drive for statehood, although the details of implementation of the deal have yet to be worked out fully.
Citing security concerns, Egypt and Israel maintain tight restrictions at their Gaza borders. Hamas, regarded by the West as a terrorist group, seized the enclave in 2007 after fighting forces loyal to Abbas.
Hamas quit positions at three Gaza crossings and handed them over to Palestinian Authority employees on Nov. 1, in a step seen as vital to encouraging Israel and Egypt to ease their restrictions on the movement of goods and people.
Witnesses said at least five buses loaded with passengers crossed over to the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing on Saturday. Hamas-appointed policemen had checked travellers’ documents in a separate hall outside Rafah.
Egypt has not yet signalled any change to its present policy under which it opens the border crossing three times a week.
Palestinians are hoping the crossing will operate full-time, as it had been doing until 2007. About 30,000 Gazans have applied for entry to Egypt in the past few months, according to the Palestinian Interior Ministry.
Egypt will host further talks with Hamas, Fatah and other factions next week on Nov. 21 to discuss major reconciliation issues, including security arrangements and a possible date for Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections.
Responsibility for security remains an open issue in Gaza, where Hamas, which still polices the territory, has what analysts say are at least 25,000 well-equipped fighters. The group refuses to disarm, as demanded by Israel and the United States.
Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Hugh Lawson