Hamas says Egypt will reopen Gaza border crossing, as pressure builds

Unclear when Rafah terminal, closed since terror group’s members took over for PA, will reopen and no official word from Cairo; Israel said to have pushed for move as release valve

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stand guard at the Rafah border crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip on January 8, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stand guard at the Rafah border crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip on January 8, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

GAZA CITY — Gaza’s Hamas rulers said Thursday that Egypt plans to fully reopen its border crossing with the enclave, days after partially closing it amid infighting between Palestinian factions.

Forces loyal to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas withdrew on Sunday from the Rafah border crossing, accusing rivals Hamas of interference, the latest sign of the breakdown of a reconciliation deal signed in 2017 that was supposed to return the PA to Gaza.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, ousted the Fatah-dominated PA from the enclave in 2007.

The crossing is the only way for Palestinians to leave Gaza that bypasses Israel.

After Hamas resumed control, Egypt announced it was closing Rafah to departures from the Palestinian enclave. Gaza’s Hamas-run interior ministry said in a statement late Monday that Egyptian authorities had informed it that the crossing “will be limited to only the arrival of individuals and the entry of goods” into the Strip.

An Egyptian soldier standing guard on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, on January 8, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

An Egyptian security delegation visited Gaza on Thursday, meeting with senior Hamas officials including its head Ismail Haniyeh.

Khalil al-Hayya, deputy head of Hamas, told journalists the Egyptians “assured us that there will be no changes at the Rafah border and it will stay open.”

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stand guard the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, on January 7, 2019 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

It was not immediately clear when the crossing would fully reopen. There was no official comment from Egypt, which hosted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday.

On Wednesday, senior Hamas member Bassem Naim told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that Egypt has promised to reopen Rafah in both directions as soon as possible.

Israeli officials had reportedly lobbied for the move, fearing keeping the crossing with Egypt closed could lead to a buildup of pressure in Gaza that would turn against the Jewish state.

Palestinian protesters try to climb the border fence with Israel during clashes following a demonstration along the border east of Gaza City on January 4, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Senior Egyptian officials were quoted in a report Thursday in the Qatari al-Araby al-Jadid newspaper as saying that the Israeli defense establishment “is concerned that squeezing the Gaza Strip will turn the attention of the Palestinian factions toward” Israel.

Hayya said he expected that all sides would stick to an informal truce agreement with Israel.

Hamas employees retook the post on Monday in what they said was an attempt to maintain border control after the PA’s sudden withdrawal.

Palestinian security forces stand guard at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 18, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Ramallah-based PA on Sunday announced its staff would no longer man the Rafah crossing, accusing its Hamas rivals of “summoning, arresting and abusing our employees” in the Gaza Strip, according to official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

The PA had taken control of the Rafah crossing in November 2017, as part of a deal for Egypt to reopen the border, which had been entirely shut since August of that year and largely sealed for years before that.

Palestinians call for the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 23, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Months of intense violence between Israel and Gaza have largely subsided in recent weeks after an Egyptian-brokered deal in which Israel allowed Qatar to provide millions of dollars in aid for fuel and Hamas salaries in the enclave.

A brief flare-up earlier this week led to reports that Israel could consider blocking the latest transfer of Qatari cash, which is slated to be provided to Gaza in six installments of $15 million each.

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