Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip on Saturday for three days to facilitate travel to and from the Palestinian territory.
Some local and international media outlets suggest that this might represent a détente between the military-led regime in Cairo and the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, which governs Gaza.
The Egyptian government had previously accused Hamas of supporting ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, along with accusations of involvement in attacks against security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.
This is the first time in three months that Egyptian authorities have granted Gazans access to two-way travel.
The Rafah border crossing was last open from May 26-28, but only in one direction, allowing stranded residents back into Gaza, but not out of this densely populated and war-scarred enclave.
Palestinian news outlets reported on Saturday that some 15,000 Gazans had applied for permits to travel in the next few days — including nearly 3,000 medical patients, hundreds of study-abroad students, expatriate workers, and pilgrims, amongst others.
It is yet to be seen how many of these 15,000 Palestinians will be allowed out of Gaza.
The last time Egypt allowed two-way travel was in March 10-11, when only a trickle of Palestinians were allowed to cross into the Sinai Peninsula. Historically, only a few hundred residents at a time have been allowed passage from Gaza through Egypt.
The Egyptian and Israeli governments have largely left the border closed, sealing-in its nearly 1.9 million residents, especially since Hamas took control of the coastal territory in 2007.
The Palestinian Al-Aqsa news portal reported on Saturday that construction materials were only allowed into Gaza following lengthy negotiations between Hamas officials and Egypt’s intelligence apparatuses.
Reuters and Deutsche Welle, among other international news outlets, suggested an apparent warming of diplomatic relations between Cairo and Gaza, pointing to a ruling by an Egyptian appeals court on June 6 that reversed a previous determination of Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Speaking to Reuters, Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said, “The opening [of the Rafah border crossing] for three days is a positive indicator. It comes after another good decision taken by the court. We hope Egypt opens the crossing permanently and can regain its role in Gaza and Palestine.”
On January 31, Egypt’s judiciary ruled against Hamas’ armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, officially classifying it as a terrorist organization.
The following month, on February 28, a subsequent court verdict classified Hamas itself as a terrorist organization, linking the Islamist resistance movement to deadly attacks against Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.
Hamas, historically considered to be a Palestinian offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (which the military-led regime outlawed and classified a terrorist organization on December 25, 2013), has repeatedly denied its involvement in attacks on Egyptian security forces, or other attempts to destabilize the ruling government.
Egypt’s state-owned Middle East News Agency quoted Jamal al-Khodari, chief of the Popular Committee to Confront the Siege on Gaza saying, “We thank Egypt for its decision to open the Rafah border for three days … There are exceptional conditions in Sinai at the moment. We understand this.”
He added, “As we approach the month of Ramadan, we hope that Egypt finds the mechanisms by which to ease the suffering of the Palestinian people, and we hope that a large number will be able to travel abroad” for pilgrimages, education and healthcare.