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Egypt temporarily opens Gaza border crossing in sign of thaw with Hamas

Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing, allowing Palestinians to travel in and out of the coastal enclave. Cairo's decision to open the border for three days is an apparent sign of thawing relations with Hamas.

For the first time in three months, Palestinians are allowed to enter and exit the Gaza Strip following Egypt's decision to open the Rafah border crossing.

The opening marks the second time Egypt has allowed Palestinians to exit the strip in 2015. At the end of May, Egypt opened the crossing for three days, but solely for Palestinians entering Gaza.

About 15,000 people have applied to enter Egypt through the border crossing during the three days, Maher Abu Sabha, head of Gaza's crossing, told AP news agency on Saturday.

However, only 1,500 people are expected to make it through, Sabha added.

The Rafah border crossing is critical for the impoverished strip, especially after Egyptian security forces ramped up efforts to curb the use of smuggling tunnels, once considered Gaza's lifeline.

The crossing is the only gateway into and out of Gaza that is not under Israeli control.

"The opening…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," Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum told Reuters news agency on Saturday.

Grenzübergang Rafah Ägypten - Gazastreifen vorübergehend geöffnet 21.12.2014

The Rafah border crossing is considered the main exit for those wishing to leave Gaza, since Israeli crossings are typically reserved for aid and medical treatment

Thawing relations?

Egypt's decision to open the border signals an apparent thawing of relations between Cairo and Hamas.

In June, an

Egyptian appeals court reversed

an earlier

court decision labeling the Islamist-oriented Hamas a "terrorist group."

Tensions between Cairo and Hamas reached an all-time low when Egypt's first democratically elected president, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, was ousted by a military coup backed by mass protests in 2013.

In the two years following the coup, Cairo accused Hamas, a militant offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, of supporting Islamist militant groups attacking in North Sinai, where the Egyptian military is fighting a small but growing insurgency.

ls/jr (Reuters, AP)

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