Palestinian-Egyptian border finally under control

Palestinians took control of a border for the first time ever on Friday, albeit for just two days, allowing thousands to cross between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, and setting a precedent that Israel will closely watch.

As reported earlier, hours before Palestinians in Gaza began tentatively testing their border authority at the Rafah crossing, Israeli forces pursuing Islamic Jihad militants in the West Bank killed three gunmen.

Israel shut down Rafah, Gaza's only gateway to the outside world, just before the last Israeli troops left the coastal strip last week after 38 years of occupation. Israel wants Rafah to remain sealed for months, for a technological upgrade and to test the Palestinians' ability to take control in Gaza, according to the AP.

In the meantime, Palestinians are to use an alternative, Israeli-controlled crossing several kilometers (miles) away, which is to be opened next week, an option the Palestinians oppose.

Under these circumstances, Israel in effect retains control over Gaza's borders. But it didn't object when the Palestinians earlier this week announced plans to pry open Rafah for two days on Friday, for the most part to allow for the passage of people seeking medical treatment, or studying or residing abroad.

Several thousand travelers were at Rafah on Friday morning to take advantage of that window, which is to remain open continuously until 6 a.m. Sunday.

Palestinians turned over travel documents to Palestinian border police at the gates of the once heavily guarded crossing, waiting for border officials to call them to board buses that would take them to the Rafah terminal, and from there, to Egypt. Some of the travelers sat on suitcases, napping, as border officials called out other people's names from the windows of the shuttle buses. Luggage, meanwhile, was passed from hand to hand as the travelers and their bags started moving.

Inside the gate, new X-ray equipment was in place, and plastic still covered the new chairs in the air-conditioned waiting area.

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