The Associated Press reports:
Egypt’s decision Wednesday to end its blockade of Gaza by opening the only crossing to the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory this weekend could ease the isolation of 1.4 million Palestinians there. It also puts the new Egyptian regime at odds with Israel, which insists on careful monitoring of people and goods entering Gaza for security reasons.
The Rafah crossing will be open permanently starting Saturday, Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency announced. That would provide Gaza Palestinians their first open border to the world in four years, since Egypt and Israel slammed their crossings shut after the Islamic militant Hamas overran the Gaza Strip in 2007.
During the closure, Egypt sometimes opened its border to allow Palestinians through for special reasons such as education or medical treatment. But with Israel severely restricting movement of Palestinians through its Erez crossing in northern Gaza, residents there were virtual prisoners.
Reuters reports on differences of opinion in Hamas’ leadership. Does this suggest a possible split in the group? Wrong question. Perhaps more significantly it suggests that the long-held assumptions about who is more radical and ideological and who is more pragmatic got the labels the wrong way round. Contrary to common opinion, the voice of moderate pragmatism tends to come out of Damascus more often than Gaza.
Divisions in Hamas have been brought to the surface by a reconciliation agreement with rival group Fatah, exposing splits in the Palestinian Islamist movement that could complicate implementation of the deal.
It is the first time differences between Hamas leaders in Gaza and the movement’s exiled politburo in Damascus have been aired so openly in public, supporting a view that the group is far from united.
The disagreements have embarrassed a movement that has always denied talk of internal divisions. But analysts do not believe they signal an imminent fracture: neither wing of the Hamas movement can survive without the other.
Signs of strain began to show in the Hamas response to the killing of Osama bin Laden, declared a holy warrior by the head of the Hamas-run Gaza government in remarks described by a member of the exiled leadership as “a slip of the tongue.” Khaled Meshaal, head of the movement in exile, then became the focus of criticism by Gaza-based leaders who said they were surprised by remarks suggesting a degree of support for peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
Meshaal had said Hamas was willing to give “an additional chance” to the peace process always opposed by his group, which is deeply hostile to Israel and has routinely declared negotiations a waste of time.
Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a senior figure in the Gaza administration, said the comments had surprised the entire Hamas movement and contradicted its strategy based on armed conflict with Israel.