Hamas’s prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniya called on Egypt on Wednesday to keep the Rafah border crossing open around the clock.
At a ceremony to inaugurate a new hall at the border crossing, Haniya urged the Egyptians “to open the door of the Rafah crossing wider by allowing it to work around the clock and increasing the number of travellers.”
The crossing is currently open nine hours a day for six days a week, with the number of people allowed to cross daily into Egypt capped at 1,500.
“Gaza today has commercial, agricultural and industrial activity,” he added, saying he had discussed with Egyptian officials the possibility of establishing a free-trade zone.
“We signed some deals and there are businessmen in Gaza ready to work on this, but we are still waiting for practical steps forward,” he said.
Egypt agreed to permanently reopen the Rafah crossing in May 2011, ending its cooperation with a blockade Israel imposed in 2006, after Gaza-based militants snatched an Israeli soldier.
Rafah is Gaza’s only border crossing not controlled by Israel, and news of Egypt’s decision to reopen it following the Egyptian uprising was warmly welcomed in the coastal strip, though Israel strongly criticized the move.
Until last week, when Egypt’s newly-elected President Mohammed Mursi took office, the number allowed to cross out of Gaza was capped at just under 1,000 people, officials said.
But even though the number has been raised to 1,500 the Palestinians say it is too low and that onerous restrictions continue to govern who can leave through the crossing.