GAZA, (Reuters) – Egypt has agreed to keep the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip open for a full 12 hours every day, a Hamas leader said on Saturday, signalling a further shift in Cairo’s stance since the election of a Muslim Brotherhood head of state in Egypt.
Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, said that in addition to allowing the border to remain open an extra four hours, Egypt agreed to increase the number of Palestinians allowed to cross by about a third, to 1,500 a day.
An Egyptian official confirmed the decision, but added that it would take time before the crossing was ready to handle the increased traffic.
It will be the first time the Rafah crossing will be open for so many hours since 2005, when Israel was still occupying Gaza. But Israel pulled out its troops and settlers that year, and there has been a power struggle in Gaza ever since.
When Hamas defeated forces of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in Gaza in a brief 2007 civil war, Israel tightened its blockade of the enclave. Egypt largely kept the Rafah crossing closed, though it began limited operation in 2009.
But after former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular revolt last year and the Muslim Brotherhood was elected into power this year, the two Islamist regimes have improved ties.
The decision on the crossing came after Haniyeh met Egypt’s newly elected President Mohamed Mursi in Cairo this week. Officials have also committed to increase the flow of fuel supplied to Gaza via Egypt.