Rafah crossing May 28, 2011 (AP)
Palestinian Mohammed Ahmed, reacts as he holds his father's passport at the Egyptian passport administration at Rafah crossing port, Saturday, May 28, 2011. Photo by AP
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Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah official visiting the Gaza Strip, praised on Saturday Egypt's decision to permanently open the Rafah border crossing.

"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)," Shaath said.

"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," he continued.

According to Shaath, the opening of the border crossing came as a result of the reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, which "has made the job easier for Cairo ... as now they are dealing with one (Palestinian) entity", he said.

After four years, Egypt on Saturday permanently opened the Rafah crossing, the Gaza Strip's main gateway to the outside world, bringing long-awaited relief to the territory's Palestinian population and a significant achievement for Hamas, which rules Gaza.

The deputy foreign minister of Hamas, Ghazi Hamad, called the opening of the Rafah crossing "a unique move and a positive development."

"We will cooperate with Egyptian brothers to make sure the new arrangements get implemented smoothly and accurately ... We even hope that 1,000 people will be able to cross every day," Hamad, who oversees work at the crossing, told Reuters.

The reopening of the Rafah crossing eases an Egyptian blockade of Gaza that has prevented the vast majority of the densely populated area's 1.5 million people from being able to travel abroad. The closure, along with an Israeli blockade of its borders with Gaza, has fueled an economic crisis in the territory.

But Saturday's move also raises Israeli fears that militants will be able to move freely in and out of Gaza.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007. The closure, which also included Israeli restrictions at its cargo crossings with Gaza and a naval blockade, was meant to weaken Hamas, an Islamic militant group that opposes peace with Israel.

But since the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February, Egypt's new leadership has vowed to ease the blockade and improve relations with the Palestinians.

The Rafah border terminal has functioned at limited capacity for months. Travel has been restricted to certain classes of people, such as students, businessmen or medical patients. And the crossing was often subject to closures.