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Gaza border with Egypt opens for first time since Palestinian reconciliation agreement

Palestinians in Gaza are hoping the Rafah crossing will remain open [AFP]

Date of publication: 18 November, 2017

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Residents of Gaza welcomed the reopening of the Gaza border on Saturday for the first time since a reconciliation agreement between the two biggest Palestinian factions.

Egypt opened its border with Gaza on Saturday for the first time since a reconciliation accord was agreed between the Palestinian strip's rulers Hamas and the West Bank based Fatah government.

The Cairo-brokered deal was agreed in October and will see the Palestinian Authority taking control of Gaza's crossings with Egypt for the first time since 2007.

A Palestinian official said the Rafah border crossing opened at 7am and was expected to stay open for the next three days.

"Egypt will open the crossing for humanitarian cases registered with the interior ministry," the official said.

He added that civilian and security personnel on the Palestinian side were all employees of the reconciliation government headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

Up to 20,000 people from Gaza have applied to enter Egypt, as ten buses crossed over the border in the first four hours.

Iyad Abu al-Kheer, 46, who was travelling to Romania through Egypt, said that Gazans were "suffering from a blockade for 11 years".

"All our (medical) treatments and such things have to go through this crossing," he said. 

Kheer expressed hope the border crossing would remain open for good.

"Things are going well and everyone can travel and start their business and their lives," he said.

Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip had been totally sealed since August, and was largely closed for years before that.

So far this year the border has been open on 14 days, according to the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza.

Under the terms of a Palestinian reconciliation agreement reached last month, Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas should hand civil power to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority by 1 December .

The Palestinian Authority will take control of its border crossings on 1 November.

The new arrangement will make it likely that the Rafah crossing will remain open for more days in the year.

Gaza Minister of Public Works and Housing Mufeed al-Husayneh  said the opening was "the first work of the government of national reconciliation taking over its functions at the Rafah crossing". 

"The unity government is ready to carry its responsibilities and roles," he said. 

Palestinian Authority's security services head Majid Faraj held talks with senior Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar in Gaza on Friday.

The Palestinian factions are due to meet in Cairo next week to discuss ways to move the reconciliation deal forward.

Israel and Egypt have both blockaded Gaza for years, as a step to isolate Hamas. 

Cairo claims the Gaza crossing is being used to smuggle arms to militants in the country and also concerned about Hamas' links to the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement, many of whose members and leaders have been jailed in Egypt.

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