Egypt opens Gaza border crossing for 3 days

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Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas (R) stand guard outside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt which opened the crossing for three days for the first time since the Palestinian reconciliation deal. — AFP

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Gaza's border crossing into Egypt is running under the Palestinian Authority's control for the first time in a decade.

Egypt opened the Rafah crossing point Saturday for three days on a humanitarian basis for the first time since the militant Hamas group ceded control of Gaza's crossings with Israel and Egypt to the Western-backed PA.

In 2007, Hamas wrested control of Gaza by force provoking an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that severely restricted the movement of most of Gaza's 2 million inhabitants.

Hamas withdrew from the crossings on Nov. 1, implementing the first step of an Egyptian-brokered deal to end the rift with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party.

Talks are to resume in Cairo this month to discuss the PA's expansion of its rule over Gaza and broader national issues.

Under the terms of a Palestinian reconciliation agreement reached last month, Gaza's rulers Hamas are supposed to cede power to West Bank-based rivals Fatah by Dec. 1.

As a first step, they handed over control of the crossings on Nov. 1.

That Egypt-brokered deal is expected to lead to more regular opening of the Rafah crossing, which Cairo has largely shuttered in recent years.

Saturday's opening is temporary, however, with the crossing due to close again on Monday.

In a related development, the head of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority's security services arrived in Gaza on Friday.

Majid Faraj met senior Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar.

All Palestinian factions are due to meet in Cairo next week to discuss ways to move reconciliation forward.

Both Israel and Egypt have maintained blockades of Gaza for years, arguing that they are necessary to isolate Hamas.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian public prosecutor ordered that a suspected Libyan militant and 14 others be held for 15 days pending an investigation of their role in a deadly attack in Egypt's western desert last month, state news MENA reported on Friday.

The Interior Ministry said on Thursday that Abdelrahim Mohamed Al-Mesmari, from the Libyan city of Derna, was captured by Egyptian forces following an air raid in response to the attack.

Security sources initially said at least 52 policemen were killed when militants attacked a patrol, firing rockets and detonating explosives in a remote part of the desert. The Interior Ministry refuted those figures and said 16 were killed .

Charges against Mesmari will include premeditated murder of police officers, possession of firearms and joining a terrorist organization, MENA reported.

A new and little-known group called Ansar Al-Islam claimed responsibility for the October attack, posing a new threat to Egyptian security forces, which have been battling a Daesh insurgency in the Sinai peninsula since 2013.

The military last month killed 15 militants in an air raid directed at the group it blamed for the desert attack, according to the Interior Ministry, which said that all of those killed had been trained in Derna.

Mesmari escaped the air raid but was later arrested along with 29 Egyptians who had been recruited to join the group, according to the Interior Ministry. — Agencies


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