Ministry: 1,500 Return to Gaza via Rafah Crossing

Some 1,500 Palestinians returned to the Gaza Strip on Friday as Egypt’s border partially reopened after a four-day closure, the interior ministry in Gaza said.

Maher Abu Sbeiha, director of crossings in the Hamas-run ministry, told Ma’an that the Rafah crossing would open again Saturday for people traveling into Gaza, but would remain closed to those trying to leave the enclave.

Egypt opened the Rafah border on Friday to allow the return of pilgrims from Saudi Arabia and those stranded on their way back to Gaza, the state news agency Mena said, citing a high-ranking official, without saying how long it would stay open.

Egypt closed the crossing Sunday night after militants attacked a police station killing 16 Egyptian officers in Rafah, near the Gaza border.

Gaza premier Ismail Haniyeh on Thursday pledged support for Egypt’s investigations into the attack, but urged it to reopen the border crossing.

Hamas has ruled out suggestions that Palestinian gunmen took part in the Sinai killings and has criticized Cairo for imposing "collective punishment" on the impoverished strip by sealing the border.

The Rafah crossing normally sees some 800 people a day leave for Egypt and beyond, and is the only window on the world for the vast majority of Gazans.

Egypt has moved to seal myriad smuggling tunnels connecting Sinai and the Gaza Strip since Sunday’s attack. The Egyptian state newspaper al-Ahram said on Friday some 150 tunnels had been destroyed. There are believed to be about 1,000 such tunnels.

"We want this crossing to remain open for goods and for people. When this happens there will be no need for tunnels," senior Hamas official Ahmer Bahar told worshipers at a Gaza mosque on Friday.

"Tunnels were an exceptional measure … When we have a free trade corridor, this issue will come to an end," he said.

Tunnelers on the Egyptian side said Egyptian forces were not closing tunnels that were previously known to them and used to bring food and construction materials to Gaza.


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