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Hamas head tells Egypt to ease restrictions at Rafah crossing

Ismail Haniyeh calls for a free trade zone on the border with Egypt; condemns PA for intention to hold municipal elections

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinians wait at the Rafah border to cross into Egypt (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians wait at the Rafah border to cross into Egypt (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on the Egyptian government Wednesday to widen the scope of activity at the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt by turning it into a commercial hub as well as a passenger gateway.

Haniyeh, speaking at the opening of the refurbished passenger terminal at the Rafah border crossing, said that Egypt’s extended operating hours at the terminal were “a move in the right direction,” but recommended that the terminal remain active around the clock seven days a week, Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported.

The new Egyptian government has promised to ease the burden of Palestinian travelers to Egypt through new procedures at Rafah, but little change has been felt on the ground. Hamas had hoped to find a more sympathetic neighbor after the presidential victory of Islamist Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, but trade with Egypt is still largely conducted through illegal underground smuggling tunnels, taxed on the Palestinian side by Hamas.

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On Wednesday, Haniyeh praised the Egyptian government for its support of the Palestinian cause and called for the establishment of a free trade zone between the Palestinian and Egyptian towns of Rafah.

Meanwhile, the Hamas government condemned the recent decision of the Palestinian Authority to hold municipal elections in the West Bank, calling it a “unilateral step that strengthened anti-reconciliation policies,” Maan news agency reported. Hamas had stopped voter registration in the Gaza Strip last week, breaking an agreement with Fatah that would have enabled elections to go forward in Gaza.

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