As hundreds of Palestinian residents waited at the Rafah Crossing, on Saturday, dozens packed the first bus, as the terminal was opened for business one day after a formal opening ceremony led by Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and attended by Palestinian high officials, leaders of resistance factions and diplomatic representatives from the entire world.
Palestinians will take control on the Rafah terminal for the first time, with the help of European monitors, part of a U.S.-mediated deal with Israel.
While some Palestinians said they were disappointed at the truncated hours, European and local officials said it was more important to get the border open quickly than to wait until they were prepared to run it full-time.
Currently, the terminal will only be opened for four hours as day to allow the European monitors to settle in. Palestinian border officials said they expected to process about 600 passengers in four hours; eventually, the terminal is to operate around the clock.
The opening of the crossing, which is considered a step forward, and a breakthrough, is believed to bolster the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the peace talks delivering a message that independence can be won through negotiations and gave him a boost ahead of Jan. 25 Legislative elections polls fiercely contested by the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.
Abbas said he hoped the Palestinians’ new gate to the world will encourage investment but added that no economic recovery can take place without an end to the chaos and lawlessness in the Palestinian territories.
“The magic key that can give us everything is the key of security”, he added.
Israel closed the Rafah crossing before pulling out of Gaza in September, ending 38 years of occupation.
International officials made reopening Rafah under Palestinian control a top priority to give Gazans concrete proof that their lives were improving after the withdrawal. Israel had been reluctant to let the Palestinians run the crossing, claiming that fighters and ammunition would be able to cross.
The crossing was not expected to have an immediate impact on Gaza’s economy. Eventually, Gazans will be able to export major cargo through Rafah, providing an alternative to the Karni cargo crossing into Israel, said Nigel Roberts, the World Bank’s regional director.
As for importing goods, the Palestinians will be able to do so from Egypt through a terminal which is being built at the junction of Israel, Egypt and Gaza that will be partially controlled by Israel.
Yet, Israel also maintains its control of Gaza’s coast and its airspace.
Nathmi Muhanna, head of the Crossings Departments at the Palestinian Authority, said that because of what was described as “security concerns” and short hours of operation, Israel processed fewer than 400 people a day – when the border was open.
Muhanna added that he hopes to process at least 1,500 people daily once the terminal gets up to speed.
Under the agreement reached last week, Israel is to allow more Palestinian cargo to pass through Karni and bus convoys can travel between the West Bank and Gaza starting Dec. 15, linking the two territories for the first time in more than five years. The Palestinians also were given permission to begin building a Gaza seaport.