Egypt Opens Gaza Border Crossing for First Time in Months

GAZA CITY (AP) -

Egypt on Thursday opened its border with the Gaza Strip for the first time in months, drawing thousands of Palestinians who crowded the Rafiach border crossing in hopes of leaving the territory.

It was not immediately clear if the two-day opening of Rafiach — the main gateway for Gaza’s 1.8 million residents and the only terminal without Israeli control — is tied to an agreement last month between Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

The deal bypassed the authority of the Islamic terror group Hamas, which seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Egypt and Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza when Hamas seized the strip, and over the past two years Egypt has moved to shut down border tunnels that Hamas relies on for cash and smuggling.

On Thursday, Hamas police guarded the Gaza side of the crossing and turned back those who had not applied for travel in advance. At best, 500 people can exit Gaza through Rafiach daily, and people with humanitarian needs, along with students and dual nationals, were given priority.

This year, the crossing was open for traffic in both directions for 19 days, according to the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, compared to 123 days the previous year. Few Gazans are permitted to travel through the Israeli border to the north, though Israeli crossings are used to transfer cargo into Gaza.