tampabay.com

Palestinians savor open border, vote

Associated Press
Published November 27, 2005


RAFAH TERMINAL, Gaza Strip - It was a smooth debut Saturday for the first Palestinian-run border. Hundreds of travelers zipped through passport control without having to submit to Israeli security checks, savoring their new freedom after 38 years of military occupation.

The West Bank also witnessed a milestone: corruption-tainted veterans of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' ruling Fatah movement were swept aside by younger activists in Fatah's first primary, signaling a change of generations and the rise of jailed uprising leader Marwan Barghouti.

The opening of Gaza's gate to the world and the revamping of the movement that was founded by Yasser Arafat could boost Abbas' chances of beating back a challenge by the Islamic militant Hamas in Jan. 25 Parliament elections.

At noon Saturday, the Rafah terminal on the Gaza-Egypt border opened for the first time since Israel's pullout from the strip in the summer. Under a U.S.-brokered deal, the Palestinians are in charge, with backup from European monitors. Israel watches over closed-circuit TV, but cannot veto travelers.

Jihad Zanoun, 30, a government employee visiting relatives in Egypt, was first to cross.

"It is the beginning of a new era that will open a new horizon for me," he said.

The border was open for just four hours Saturday - a day after Palestinians took control with an inauguration ceremony - to give European monitors time to settle in, but it will eventually operate around the clock.

European officials said 1,587 people crossed on the first day.

Starting in mid December, Palestinians also will be able to travel between the West Bank and Gaza for the first time in five years, at first in Israeli-escorted bus convoys.

Fatah's "young guard," led by Barghouti, swept primaries for the Parliament list held in parts of the West Bank, preliminary results indicated Saturday.

Barghouti, 46, is serving five life terms in an Israeli prison for his involvement in shooting attacks that killed five Israelis.

Israel, meanwhile, said it would not release Barghouti, who supports peace negotiations but also justifies the use of deadly force to drive Israel out of the West Bank.