NITZANA CROSSING, Israel – More than 100 Palestinians began crossing into Israel en route to the Gaza Strip on Sunday, almost two months after Hamas' takeover of the seaside strip triggered the closure of the border with Egypt.
Earlier Sunday, some 1,000 Palestinians had gathered in a stadium in the Egyptian town of el-Arish, where authorities read the names of 105 people who they said had been approved by Israel to return to Gaza.
Their return had been delayed by a dispute over the Rafah terminal on the Gaza-Egypt border, the only passage for Gazans to the world, which has been closed since the Fatah-Hamas fighting began in Gaza.
Under a U.S.-brokered agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the crossing was operated by Egypt and the Palestinians, with EU monitors deployed on the Palestinian side. During the Hamas takeover, the European monitors fled and Hamas militiamen took control of the terminal.
Both Israel and Egypt have opposed reopening the crossing as long as Hamas remains in charge there.
Sunday's crossing at Nitzana was delayed for several hours because of bureaucratic discrepancies between Egypt and Israel.
Oron Ronen, an Israeli border official, said Israel had approved 91 names but at least six more people had arrived in the hopes of crossing.
Hamas denounced the arrangement, saying it gave Israel a veto on who could enter Gaza. Rafah's continued closure also means Hamas officials will find it more difficult to sneak funds into the Gaza Strip.
Hani Jabbour, a Palestinian security coordinator stationed on the Egyptian side of Rafah, said Saturday that Israel had approved a list of 627 Palestinians who would be allowed to return, out of about 6,000 who have been living in harsh desert conditions in the Egyptian border town of Rafah. The people remaining on the list after Sunday's journey will head out the next day, and similar transfers are expected in the future, he added.
Those left stranded have been asked to return to Cairo to register with the Palestinian embassy there, he said. The embassy will pass the names of those registered to the Israelis for approval, he added.
One of those in the frontier limbo is Rafik Ahmed Salman, who has been stranded in Rafah for more than two months because the crossing was intermittently closed even before Hamas took over Gaza.
"I have been here for 77 days with some sick people from my family, but I hope that I will be able to cross tomorrow," said Salman. "This is again another tragedy of the Palestinian people."
On the Gaza side of the Erez crossing, where the group was expected to cross from Israel, a few dozen Palestinians gathered in wilting heat to wait for relatives.
One man, identifying himself only as Suleiman, said he was waiting for his sister-in-law and for two cousins who underwent surgery in Egypt and were stuck there when the border closed. But he said he didn't know if they were on the list of people allowed to cross Sunday.
"I hope, but I'm not sure," he said.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit said getting the first group across was a first positive step.
"Now that things have calmed down in the Gaza Strip, I think it is quite right to give them a possibility to go back to Gaza to their homes and I hope that this step will create some kind of quietness in the Gaza Strip," he said.