Egyptian Gov't. Opens Rafah Crossing

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Egypt's acting government announced the reopening of the Rafah border crossing between the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

Palestinians under 18 and over 40 will be able to enter Egypt with no advance arrangements between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Women are free to travel back and forth without official authorization. The new regulations also allow visitors with foreign passports to use the crossing freely.

Egyptian and Hamas security forces will man their respective sides of the crossing.

Hamas welcomed the announcement, which reportedly was one of the key points that convinced the Islamist group to sign the unity agreement with Fatah, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

"This decision reflects the spirit of revolution in Egypt and the depth of brotherhood between the Palestinian people and the Egyptian people, which has reutrned itself to its original role in the Palestinian matter," the Hamas government said in a statement.

Following the June 2007 military coup in Gaza that left Hamas in control, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak closed the Rafah crossing. Mubarak's insistence that Fatah forces operate the Gaza side of the crossing was unacceptable to Hamas so Rafah remained closed for the most part, with some exceptions for medical treatment or plans to study abroad.

Hamas, meanwhile, built and operated hundreds of arms smuggling tunnels near the Rafah crossing. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) destroyed many of them during its incursion into the Gaza Strip two years ago. Since then, Israeli pilots often targeted tunnels in retaliation for rocket and mortar attacks by Gaza-based Palestinians on southern Israel.

Now, Hamas has an "open door," Jerusalem Post military correspondent Yaakov Katz said.

"Hamas is just getting an open door conduit from Egypt into the Gaza Strip," Katz told CBN News in a recent interview. "They won't even need to use the tunnels anymore."

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