GAZA CITY: The Gaza Strip s sole gateway to the world that evades Israel, where it borders Egypt, was reopened on Friday after an ongoing Israeli security alert was lifted, officials said. EU monitors who oversee the Rafah terminal had been unable to get to work earlier Friday, and the Rafah liaison office had been closed because of an ongoing alert at a separate crossing. The monitors were finally able to travel to their jobs when the Israeli army opened the Kerem Shalom crossing to the EU representatives, and allowed an adjacent liaison office, which oversees Rafah, to reopen. The European observers arrived and we opened the crossing in both directions, said Samir Abu Nahl, the head of the Rafah terminal. EU monitors spokesman Nigel Milverton confirmed with AFP that everything was “up and running now. The Rafah border was open from 3:34 pm (12:34 GMT) until 8:00 pm (17:00 GMT) Thursday, allowing about 1,500 people to cross both ways, after being shut all day Wednesday because of the Kerem Shalom alert, Miverton said. Hundreds of people trying to cross in and out of the Gaza Strip were stranded at the terminal on Friday, including the sick en route to Egypt for medical treatment, said Palestinian officials at the terminal. The European Union has deployed observers at Rafah, at the request of the Palestinian Authority and Israel, to monitor agreements on border traffic.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said the monitors could get to Rafah by entering through another crossing point.
The Islamic militant group Hamas has said it suspected Rafah was closed to stop its government from carrying cash by hand into Gaza to sidestep a Western aid embargo. The monitors have denied the accusation.
Western diplomats had said Rafah s reopening, Thursday, underscored the expanding role of Abbas elite presidential guard. Western powers envisage Abbas guard eventually taking control of all of Gaza s crossing points, sidelining the Hamas-led government.
The monitors oversee Rafah under a U.S.-brokered deal aimed at opening up Gaza after Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from the strip last year after 38 years of occupation.
Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said the head of the European monitoring mission at Rafah, Pietro Pistolese, had asked Abbas office to expand the presidential guard s presence. They asked us to beef up the numbers, Erekat said. If they want it permanent, that would be fine with us. Israel wants Abbas forces to act to prevent rocket fire by militants near the crossings. As part of a power struggle with Hamas, Abbas deployed the presidential guard at Rafah and has been drawing up plans to tighten security control at Gaza s main commercial crossing at Karni.
Earlier on Thursday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas condemned the closure of Rafah. The crossing is the key gateway to the outside world for Gazans because Israel severely restricts access through its own borders with the strip. Little trade passes through Rafah. Near the crossing, scores of families waited for the terminal to open. A Palestinian official said around 1,500 Palestinians were waiting on the Egyptian side to get in. We thought the closures would end when the Israelis left, said one woman, Umm Mohammad, adding she needed medical treatment in Egypt. Last week the European monitors sent a letter to Abbas protesting against Hamas use of Rafah to bring in large quantities of cash, raising fears the passage could be shut. Israel, the United States and the European Union imposed crippling economic sanctions on the new government after Hamas refused to recognize the Jewish state and disarm. Sworn to destroy Israel, Hamas took office in March. Agencies