As Egypt opens the Rafah border crossing for the first time since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip Israel security elements are trying to review the new situation. "Opening the crossing signifies a strategic change in Egypt-Hamas relations that warrants special attention," a security element told Ynet.
Some 450 Palestinians crossed into Sinai on Saturday. The Gazans regard Egypt's decision to open the border a historic event while Israel continues to assess the repercussions. Security elements claim no significant change has been noted in the tactical level as opposed to the strategic level. "More people will pass, but it's a minor change as long as dozens of tunnels still operate," one element said.
Salama Baraka, head of police at the Rafah terminal said that some 410 Palestinians crossed into Egypt on Saturday – 110 more than the monthly average. A total of 39 were sent back into Gaza for failing to produce appropriate visas and certifications. An additional 150 crossed into Gaza from Egypt. Officials hoped to get about three days' worth of people, or roughly 1,000, across.
"Today marks a cornerstone for a new age which will hopefully pave the way to an end to the Gaza blockade," Hamas' border authority chief said.
Rafah crossing on Saturday (Photo: EPA)
Meanwhile, Israeli security officials are busy trying to analyze the new reality. Since the upheaval in Egypt, Cairo has significantly less control over Sinai as Hamas and Egypt grow closer. "No doubt the Egyptians are busy with their own matters and therefore the Sinai smuggling industry is blooming," one security official said.
"The fact that the Rafah crossing will operate for another hour or two each day does not change the rules of the game."
According to one source, some 160,000 people passed through the border in 2010. Since the riots in Egypt began more than 30,000 have crossed into Sinai. This suggests a slight increase in the number of travelers, but in the face of dozens of smuggling tunnels still working no significant change has occurred.
More concerning are the relations between Egypt and Hamas. "At the first stage, it lifts a lot of responsibility off Israel's shoulders when it comes to Gaza, including claims of a siege and a blockade," one element said. But he added that the tightening ties between Cairo and Hamas can also manifest in efforts to release captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
"Granted, there is a change in the border agreement but it's a slight deviation which is hardly felt," one source said. In the long run, some negative aspects may also surface. "A small incident may quickly become a medium-scale or large-scale event. It may be hard to stop the rolling stone and that is why we need to coordinate with Egypt."
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