Gaza's Rafah border crossing with Egypt was opened Saturday under the auspices of Palestinian Authority for the first time since 2007. The crossing will remain open for three days for humanitarian cases, for those who hold Egyptian passports and for students.
An Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal last month formally restored Palestinian President Abbas's administrative control of Gaza, including border crossings, however disagreements with Hamas over the Strip's security arrangements had thus far prevented the crossing's opening.
Upcoming talks in Cairo will determine the extent of the crossing's operation after the present three-day window as part of a wider security agreement to be worked out between the two groups.
The Palestinian Authority is demanding routine security responsibility for the Gaza Strip in order to ensure proper operation of the enclave's border crossings. Sources in the PA say that until these security issues are agreed upon, the government will not be able to properly govern in Gaza, including at the Rafah crossing.
Hamas accused the PA of using the security issue in order to delay the crossing's opening, noting that the PA had not yet lifted the sanctions imposed on the Strip in recent months.
Palestinians hope the pact will ease Gaza's economic woes and help them present a united front in their drive for statehood.
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 is to host further talks with Hamas, Fatah and other factions next week to discuss major remaining reconciliation issues which, apart from security arrangements, include a possible date for Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections.
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.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now