After four years of closure the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza strip was opened on Saturday allowing hundreds of Gazans to travel into EgyptThere were joyous scenes at Rafah over the weekend as hundreds of Gazans took advantage of the relaxed restrictions on movement previously imposed at the behest of Israel by Egypt’s ousted Mubarak government. The new Egyptian interim government has allowed women and men aged under 18 and over 40 unrestricted travel between Egypt and the besieged Palestinian hamlet for the first time in four years.
The opening of Rafah was one of the incentives posed by the Egyptian government to Hamas in return for signing the recent reconciliation deal with Fatah. It was announced in April that the border was to be opened.
Talking to al-Jazeera, many undertaking the crossing spoke of how it was the first time they have been able to see family in Egypt or travel abroad since the siege was tightened four years ago in response to the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas.
The opening was warmly welcomed by Gaza citizens, business men and its de facto ruling government party Hamas.
Member of the Hamas political bureau Ezzet al Rasheq commented on his twitter feed that “the Egyptian decision to open the Rafah crossing permanently is a brave initiative and a new success for the Egyptian revolution after its success in effecting the Palestinian reconciliation”. According to Hareetz, Hamas also held a festive ceremony to celebrate Egypt’s decision.
The Gazan Federation of Businessman, speaking to Maan news agency, welcomed the opening of the crossing saying it would aid attempts to renew civilian infrastructure destroyed during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008/09. A 1 $Billion investment package has been announced by the Palestinian Investment Fund to help undertake the reconstruction.
Israel has expressed concern at the opening of the border and has charged Egypt with responsibility for preventing the smuggling of weapons in and out of the area which is controlled by Hamas. In a statement to reporters in Jerusalem Israeli Home Front Defence Minister Matan Vilnai said that “the moment the Egyptians opened, they are responsible”.
Israel has called for international observers and Israeli camera monitoring to return to monitoring the border however Hamas has said they are not needed at this time, according to Hareetz. ‘The Palestinians have proved their ability to operate the Rafah crossing,’ said Hamas Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad.
A 2005 agreement between the PA and Israel established a European Border Monitoring group at the Rafah border. However the group stopped its work after Hamas took control of the area in 2007.
The opening of the border does signal an end to the siege on the Gaza strip. The Rafah crossing remains to be closed to trade. The main crossing for commercial goods remains to be through the Israeli crossing at Eratz. Israel maintains control over electricity and water in the area.
The UN and International Red Cross have deemed the blockade of Gaza to be illegal under international law and called for its ending.