JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel has agreed to allow Palestinians stranded in Egypt for weeks to pass into Israel and then into the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said Saturday.
Palestinian Information Minister Riad Maliki said that some of the 6,000 Palestinians who have been waiting in the Egyptian border town of Rafah would be allowed to pass at the beginning of next week.
Hamas, which wrested control of the Gaza Strip last month, denounced the deal since it allowed Israel to decide who could enter Gaza. Hamas officials and supporters would presumably not be allowed to enter through Israel.
Israel has agreed in principle to the passage of the Palestinians, and must approve of the names of potential passengers on lists the Palestinians must compile, Maliki said.
The Palestinians would pass from Egypt into Israel through the rarely-used Al-Oja crossing, then into the northern Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing, he said.
Israel did not immediately comment on the deal. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev would only say that Israel was searching for “creative solutions” to return the Palestinians to Gaza. “No one wants to see those people trapped indefinitely,” Regev said.
Israel has already approved a list of 627 Palestinians who will be allowed to cross at the beginning of next week, said a Palestinian Authority official in Egypt.
On Sunday, 100 will cross and the rest will pass on Monday, the official said on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the press.
Israel has indicated that it will approve further transfers of Palestinians, the official said.
The Palestinians have been unable to return to Gaza because of the closure of the Rafah border terminal between Egypt and the Gaza Strip since June 9. The border terminal was jointly controlled by Egypt, Israel, the Palestinians, and overseen by European monitors.
Israel and Egypt have rejected Hamas demands since its bloody takeover in mid-June to have partial control of the terminal.
Hamas denounced the deal, saying the group must have a say in Palestinian movement. “There is only the Rafah border crossing,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. “The use of any other border crossing increases Israeli control over the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas had opposed a similar idea in the past, according to which the stranded Palestinians would have crossed through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom passage into the Gaza Strip.
Hamas militants attacked the Kerem Shalom crossing with mortar shells in response to the idea. Hundreds of the stranded Palestinians in Egypt have been living in harsh conditions in the Sinai desert.
International aid groups have repeatedly called for their plight to be speedily resolved.