Hamas: Opening of Egypt Border Crossing Will Ease Gaza Suffering

Militant group says Strip cabinet officially informed by Egypt of new regulations at Rafah crossing; deputy defense minister says decision to open the crossing is 'first stage of a very problematic system for Israel.'

The de-facto government of the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza on Thursday welcomed Egypt's decision to open its border crossing with the strip.

A statement from the Hamas-run Interior Ministry said the government had been officially informed by Egypt about the new regulations at the Rafah crossing.

Palestinians waiting to cross border - AP

It said that people under 18 years and over 40 years would be able to travel from Gaza to Egypt without any advance security coordination. Holders of foreign travel documents, patients, students and investors would also not require visas.

"These measures are the right decision in the right direction, and will facilitate the life of the population and ease their suffering," said the Hamas statement.

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilani called the opening of Rafah "very problematic."

Speaking to Israel Radio, the minister said that Egypt's decision "symbolizes the first stage of a very problematic system for Israel."

Egyptian authorities announced Wednesday the official opening of the Rafah crossing point, sayingt that on the Palestinian side, the Rafah crossing will be operated and guarded by policemen deployed by Hamas.

Under the Mubarak regime, Egypt vehemently opposed using Hamas guards at Rafah and demanded that the crossing point remain closed until Palestinian Authority personnel were deployed at the venue.

Haaretz has learned that the decision to reopen Rafah was made in recent weeks and discussed at the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation meetings. It was the Palestinian Authority's consent to opening Rafah that was one of the incentives used to persuade Hamas leaders to sign the reconciliation accord.

The Egyptian government announced Wednesday that the crossing point will be open each day from 9:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M., apart from Fridays and official holidays. According to the announcement, the decision to reopen Rafah reflects Egyptians efforts to bring an end to internal strife among the Palestinians and strengthen the reconciliation accord.

The decision confers significant benefits to Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. Among other things, women crossing from Gaza into Egypt will not require entry authorizations.