Palestinians hail reopening of Rafah crossing despite Israel’s reservation

by Emad Drimly, Saud Abu Ramadan

GAZA, May 26 (Xinhua) — The Palestinians on Thursday welcomed an Egyptian decision to ease restrictions of passengers movements, which had been imposed on the Rafah crossing on its borders with the Gaza Strip four years ago after the Islamic Hamas movement seized control of the enclave in 2007.

On Wednesday, the Hamas Ministry of Interior announced that Egypt had decided to permanently reopen the Rafah crossing point with the Gaza Strip and ease the restrictions imposed on the movement of the population of the coastal enclave, which had been under an Israeli blockade for four years.

Egyptian media reported Thursday that the country’s authorities decided to extend the working days at the Rafah border crossing from 9:00 a.m. (0700 GMT) to 5:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) six days a week instead of five days, adding “this measure was made to help end the internal division.”

Yasser Abed Rabbo, an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), told Voice of Palestine Radio that the Palestinian leadership encouraged the Egyptian officials to hurry up in reopening the Rafah crossing as soon as possible and ease the restrictions imposed on people’s movement.

“Reopening the Rafah crossing is so necessary because it will end the suffering of the Gaza Strip people in accordance with the agreements and laws that were used in running the crossing before the internal Palestinian division has begun in 2007,” Abed Rabbo said.

He added that the Egyptian decision “goes in harmony with creating a proper opportunity to finalize the implementation of the reconciliation agreement and also it would help the Palestinians to be able to confront the upcoming difficulties with better conditions.”

However, Abed Rabbo denied that reopening the crossing “is part of the reconciliation agreement,” which was signed in Cairo on May 4 between Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamic Hamas movement, adding “the decision to ease the restrictions is a pure Egyptian decision.”

Meanwhile, the Hamas movement hailed the Egyptian decision. Hamas has been ruling the coastal enclave since it seized control of it by force in June 2007. Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said in a press statement that the Egyptian decision is brave and responsible.”

“Egypt has been guarding the highest interests of the Palestinian people and the Arabs,” Barhoum said, adding “this decision is a step forward towards ending the unfair siege that the whole international community should follow Egypt and help completely end the siege.”

The less-influential Islamic Jihad (Holy War) movement also welcomed the Egyptian decision. The movement’s spokesman Dawood Shihab said in a press statement that his movement welcomes the decision, adding that they hope all restrictions will be lifted.

“I believe that easing the restrictions at the Rafah crossing is one of Egyptian revolution’s achievements,” Shihab said. Other Palestinian NGOs had praised the Egyptian decision, calling on the international community to exert more pressure on Israel to end the ongoing blockade.

Meanwhile, the Popular Committee to end the Israeli Siege said in a press statement that in addition to easing restrictions on people’s movement, “we hope that the measures will include soon mutual commercial cooperation between the Palestinians and Egyptians.”

Hamas Minister of Agriculture Mohamed al-Agha said he hopes that the Egyptian decision would develop and includes opening a commercial crossing between Egypt and Gaza to enable Gaza farmers to export their products to the outside world and encourage commercial cooperation with Egypt.

Chief of Gaza Chamber of Commerce Maher Tabba said it is necessary and important to reopen the Rafah crossing for the Gaza Strip. However, he said “the Rafah crossing can never be an alternative crossing, where other crossings with Israel must be also reopened permanently.”

Meanwhile, Israel expressed reservations after Egypt decided to ease the restrictions imposed on the Rafah crossing. Israeli Radio quoted Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Mattan Vilna’i as saying that “easing the restrictions at the Rafah crossing would resolve some of the problems with Israel.”

Meanwhile, Israeli security sources expected that reopening the Rafah crossing “would be helpful to Israel.” The sources told Israeli Army Radio that “the Egyptian decision may help transfer Gaza responsibility to Egypt.”

Source: Xinhua.

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