June 8, 2011 / 10:00 AM / 8 years ago

Gaza crossing with Egypt reopens after dispute

* Rafah crossing was closed since Saturday

* Crossing open to passengers, not goods

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, June 8 (Reuters) - The Gaza Strip’s border crossing with Egypt reopened on Wednesday after a four-day closure caused by a dispute between Cairo and Gaza’s Hamas rulers over travel arrangements, officials said.

Witnesses said a bus carrying 60 Palestinians crossed into Egypt from Gaza at the Rafah border point, Gaza’s only opening to the outside world. Palestinians waiting to make the same journey cheered when they heard the news.

“It was good news the crossing reopened and I hope things get easier and every passenger will get to his end destination,” said Jamal Al-Dahshan, 48, who had been waiting to enter Egypt since Saturday.

To great fanfare, Egypt eased border access on May 28, extending opening hours and scrapping visa requirements for many Palestinians.

Egyptian protesters who toppled President Hosni Mubarak in an uprising earlier this year have pressed the country’s interim rulers to improve relations with the Palestinians.

Some Hamas officials said Egyptian authorities later appeared to have second thoughts and tried to slow the flow of Palestinians leaving the tiny coastal enclave.

On Saturday, they said the Egyptians unexpectedly shut the crossing altogether for previously unannounced maintenance work, sparking a small riot at the border.

“Egypt’s decision (on May 28) was a brave one and we want our brothers to keep the arrangement in place. The crossing is open,” Hatem Oweida, the Hamas-appointed director of Gaza crossings, told Reuters.

An Egyptian border official denied Egypt had ever closed the crossing, saying Hamas was responsible for shutting its side.

“The Rafah border is operating based on the mechanism that Egypt previously announced and had started using on May 28,” said the official.

Under the new Egyptian travel guidelines, the crossing operates six days a week instead of five and for longer hours. Women, minors and men over 40 years of age are no longer required to obtain a visa to enter Egypt.

Israeli officials had expressed anger because Egypt had not coordinated the opening of the crossing with them.

Israel says Cairo must not heed Hamas demands to allow commercial goods to pass through Rafah, a move that would undermine a four-year blockade of the territory Hamas seized in 2007 from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Additional reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Egypt; editing by Andrew Heavens)

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