Egypt Opens Gaza Crossing in Move Seen as Backing for Abbas’ Archrival

Hamas says it has detected a change in Egypt’s attitude to Gaza, taking it as Egyptian gesture toward Dahlan, aimed at pressuring Abbas.

A Palestinian boy sits next to the luggage as he and his family wait to cross the border into Egypt, at the Rafah crossing border in the southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016.
Khalil Hamra, AP

In an unusual move, Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip on Sunday to allow some 120 Gazans to attend a socioeconomic conference near the city of Suez.

The Gazans, mostly businessmen and clan chiefs, are expected to return to the Strip on Thursday.

Sources in Gaza said this is the second time in the past month that a high-level Palestinian delegation – some of whose members are supporters of Mohammed Dahlan – has been allowed to enter Egypt via Rafah. Dahlan is considered a bitter rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank say this reflects a change in Egyptian policy, which could affect Cairo’s relations with both Abbas and Hamas.

Over the past few months, a leading political activist in Gaza said, Egypt has been reconsidering its relationship with the Strip due to its own economic crisis. Over the past few years, Egypt has clamped down hard on smuggling tunnels from Gaza – a move that seriously affected many merchants in Sinai. Now, though, Egypt is desperately looking for ways to improve its own economy.

Moreover, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi is angry with Abbas because the latter rejected an Egyptian initiative to bring Dahlan back into the fold of Abbas’ Fatah party.

Abbas’ people believe Sissi has been easing his clampdown on Gaza as a gesture to Dahlan. He has opened Rafah to regular traffic on eight days over the past month and is mulling various economic projects with Gaza, including an old idea of developing joint Egyptian-Palestinian industrial parks on the Gaza-Egypt border.

According to Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Rafah opened last month on October 15-16, and again from October 19-23. During those days, 4,544 people left Gaza and 2,117 entered. Altogether, Rafah has been open for only 33 days since the start of the year, so the October openings accounted for almost a quarter of the total so far this year.

Hamas says it has detected a change in Egypt’s attitude as well, but is uncertain how long it will last – especially since it, too, views the changes primarily as an Egyptian gesture toward Dahlan, aimed at pressuring Abbas.

But the rift between Abbas and Dahlan just keeps worsening. on Sunday, the PA’s Constitutional Court authorized Abbas to expel Dahlan from the Palestinian Legislative Council, ruling that the PA president has the power to expel legislators. That drew furious reactions from all Palestinian factions, including Hamas.

Palestinian politicians termed the ruling a political decision aimed at furthering Abbas’ interests in advance of Fatah’s General Conference at the end of this month. The conference is supposed to choose a new party leadership.