Gaza Border Crossing Into Egypt Opens

For the first time since 1967, Palestinians can cross form Gaza to Egypt without encountering Israeli troops. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas officially opened the Rafah border terminal on Friday. The crossing will be monitored by European Union troops.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Beginning today, for the first time since 1967, Palestinians will be able to cross from Gaza to Egypt without encountering Israeli troops. Palestinian Authority Leader Mahmoud Abbas is officially opening the Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt. The crossing will be monitored by European Union troops. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

The handover of the Rafah border terminal to Palestinian control is seen by Palestinians as a step toward statehood, following Israel's withdrawal from Gaza earlier this year. Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the crossing is being controlled by the Palestinian Authority and the European Union troops are there only as monitors. The negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians over the border crossing had been stuck for months until Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice worked out a compromise two weeks ago. Under that agreement, Israeli and Palestinian security officers will use remote-control cameras at an EU-run control room a few miles from Rafah to watch activity at the terminal. If Israel wants someone stopped or detained, they must ask the Palestinians to do it.

Israeli officials say they're concerned that wanted militants will be able to come into Gaza from Egypt. The Jerusalem Post today reported that Rafik al-Hassanat(ph), a senior member of Hamas, who fled to Egypt in 1993, returned to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah terminal earlier this week. The border was open for a few hours on Wednesday to allow hundreds of Palestinians stranded in Egypt to return to Gaza. Starting tomorrow, the crossing will be open for four hours a day until all 70 European Union monitors are in place. Eventually it will be open 24 hours a day. Palestinian officials say they hope the easing of travel restrictions will also help Abbas' Fatah party in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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