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Middle East

Rafah crossing reopened for people, not goods

media A Hamas policem officer checks the passport of a Palestinian passenger … Reuters/Suhaib Salem

Egypt on Saturday reopened the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip to people but not goods after keeping it closed for more than four years. Two ambulances taking patients for treatment in Egypt were among the first vehicles to cross the border.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi announced the crossing would reopen permanently on 29 April, after the reconciliation of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas, which controls Gaza.

It will be open to people for eight hours daily except Fridays and public holidays People under 18 or older than 40 will require only a visa to pass, but those between 18 and 40 will still need security clearance, crossing officials say.

Dossier: Revolution in Egypt

Commercial traffic will continue to have to pass through border points with Israel, which controls all other access points to the area.

Hamas has complained that some issues remain unresolved, including the question of whether people on a security list established by Abbas’s Palestinian Authority can pass through.

Dossier: Gaza 2009

It was not immediately clear if members of the Force 17 presidential guard would return to the border, as was stipulated in a US and European Union-brokered treaty.

Israel declared itself “worried” by the move, claiming that it would make arms smuggling easier, although armed groups are known to receive weapons by sea and via tunnels into Egypt.

The Rafah opening was ordered by the military council which has replaced Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and comes after Cairo brokered the agreement between the Palestinian factions. Here are the key events that led to it:

  • 2005: An EU commission starts monitoring the border in response to Israeli secuiryt complaints;
  • 2006: The Palestinian Authority assumes responsibility for monitoring the Gaza side; Israel imposes a blockade following the abduction of Franco-Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit; Hamas wins 44 per cent of votes in Palestinian Authority election and a big majority in Gaza;
  • 2007: Hamas and Fatah form a national unity government; Hamas removes Fatah officials from positions in Gaza, sparking a week of fighting which leaves it in control of the strip; Abbas dissolves the unity government;
  • 2008-2009: Israel launches an offensive against the Gaza Strip with 1,400 Palestinian deaths; the crossing briefly opened to allow care for the wounded but closure remains in place;
  • 2010: Israel attacks an international solidarity flotilla heading for Gaza, claiming that it is carrying arms;
  • 2011: Mubarak toppled by popular uprising and replaced by military council ahead of elections; Egypt brokers Fatah-Hamas reconciliation; Egypt opens Rafah crossing to people but not goods.

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