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Rafah crossing opening closer: sources

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Palestinian factions are getting closer to reopening the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Palestinian territories, following an agreement last Thursday between rivals Hamas and Fatah to hand over control of the Gaza Strip to a Palestinian unity government.

Informed Palestinian sources told media that pportunities for reaching an agreement on fully reopening the Rafah border crossing “are much stronger now with Hamas out of the picture,” adding that talks were “currently ongoing between the Palestinian Authority and Egypt in order to overcome any obstacles.”

Reopening the crossing is conditional upon the unity government taking control of the Strip, as per last Thursday’s agreement in Cairo between rival groups Fatah and Hamas to hand over control of the Gaza Strip to a government headed by Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

The two groups had already agreed to a national unity government in May, but those plans were derailed following a dispute over the non-payment of public sector workers’ salaries in Gaza and the month-long Israeli offensive against the Strip, which started in July.

Hamas has been in control of the Strip since its 2007 election victory. Part of August’s Egyptian-brokered ceasefire agreement between militant groups in Gaza and Israel stipulated that a Palestinian unity government take control of the Strip and its border crossings.

But details regarding the Rafah border crossing on the border with Egypt—which Israel long contends has been used to smuggle weapons into the territories—were left out of discussions, which Cairo deemed a purely “Egyptian–Palestinian matter.”

Meanwhile, Israeli news website Walla! reported on Sunday that Hamas had agreed for 3,000 members of security forces employed by the Palestinian Authority to run all the territory’s border crossings. Senior Hamas member Mahmoud Al-Zahhar said the group had “no objections” to the plan and that what was “really needed right now is for the [unity] government to act in order to resolve the issue.”

Since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, the area has been almost entirely blockaded, with all border crossings sealed—except Rafah’s, which was only closed in July of last year following an attack on Egyptian security forces by Islamists affiliated to Hamas. The border has only been open intermittently since then.

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