Egypt Limiting Passage Through Gaza Border Crossing, Hamas Says

Hamas claims number of people let into Egypt falling dramatically in past few days, say numbers allowed entry through Rafah border crossing are 'disappointing.'

Hamas said on Wednesday that Egypt was limiting the number of people allowed to enter the country from Gaza, undermining Egypt's permanent opening of the Rafah border crossing on Saturday.

Hamas border officials said the number of travelers who have crossed into Egypt at Rafah since the new procedures were announced had fallen dramatically over the past two days.

Rafah crossing - Reuters - May 28, 2011

They said Egyptian officials had told Hamas on Tuesday that a maximum of 350 Gaza residents would be granted entry each day, dampening Palestinian hopes that passage would be unlimited.

"Following the joy that has swept most of our people, movement at the crossing yesterday and today was disappointing," a Hamas official said.

A senior Egyptian security official who spoke to Reuters denied any such quota had been imposed at the Rafah border crossing.

Hamas border officials said 565 Gaza residents had crossed into Egypt at Rafah on Saturday, then 404 on Sunday and 631 on Monday. But the number dropped to 227 on Tuesday and fewer than 100 by late afternoon on Wednesday, they said.

Under the new regulations, the Rafah border terminal, which has functioned at limited capacity for months, will operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Fridays and holidays. Egypt allowed nearly 300 Gazans to enter in the first hour alone after the operating period was extended.

Palestinians have welcomed Egypt's decision to end a visa requirement for women, minors and men over the age of 40 from the Gaza Strip.

But in what Hamas described as a step backward, Egyptian authorities have demanded in advance the names of any travelers between the ages of 18 and 40 and have turned back dozens of people at the border.

An Egyptian security official said Egypt needed time to look into Hamas' demands to remove people from a no-entry list.

"We have told them we cannot accept the reinstatement of restrictions," a Hamas official who attended Tuesday's meeting with Egyptian officials told Reuters.

The reopening of the Rafah border crossing eases an Egyptian blockade of Gaza that 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.

On Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh urged Gazans to refrain from breaching Egypt's security in order to maintain the Rafah border crossing open, French news agency AFP reported.

"Don't do anything that could compromise the reopening of the terminal," AFP quoted Hanieyh as saying. "We assure our Egyptian brothers: 'Your security is ours and your stability is ours.'"