CAIRO - The first Palestinians have begun crossing into Egypt after the Egyptian government announced it was permanently easing restrictions on Saturday at its border with Gaza.
The Rafah crossing is the only official entry point outside Israel into Gaza. On Wednesday, Egypt announced it was ending its four-year blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory by re-opening the crossing. The move will ease the isolation of the 1.4 million Palestinians living in Gaza.
A VOA correspondent at the border says several hundred people were being processed on the Palestinian side when the border officially opened. He said one traveler expressed relief about Egypt’s decision saying it would allow him to “travel like a normal person.”
Egypt says it will operate the crossing under rules that were in place before the blockade was tightened in 2007. Palestinians with passports will be allowed to cross every day, except Fridays and official holidays. Women will be able to leave Gaza without restrictions, while men between the ages of 18 and 40 will have to obtain visas for Egypt at the border.
Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency says the move is part of the government’s efforts to “end the divisions among Palestinians and finalize their national reconciliation.” In April, Egypt brokered a reconciliation deal between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement and its Hamas rivals that ended four years of bitter rivalry.
Israel and Egypt sealed their borders with Gaza in 2007 after Hamas militants overran the territory.
Israel has not officially reacted to Rafah’s re-opening but, some government officials have voiced concern that militants may use the crossing to smuggle explosives and weapons into Gaza.
Source: VOA News