JERUSALEM -- The Palestinian government in the West Bank announced that it has reached a compromise with Israel yesterday that will enable about 6,000 Gazans stranded in Egypt since the beginning of June to gradually return home.
The first group of 627 will cross back into Gaza today and tomorrow, officials said.
Their return had been delayed by a dispute over the Rafah terminal on the Gaza-Egypt border, Gaza's only gate to the world. Rafah has been closed since the start of the internal fighting that led to the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June.
Under a US-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.
Israel and Egypt have refused to reopen the crossing as long as Hamas is on the border. The Palestinian Cabinet in the West Bank tried to negotiate a one-time deal for those stranded in Egypt, but balked at Israel's proposals to reroute them through Kerem Shalom, an Israeli-controlled crossing into Gaza.
Palestinian officials said they are concerned Israel is trying to make the Rafah closure permanent. Under a compromise, the stranded travelers will come through a tiny crossing into Gaza that does not have the potential to be turned into an alternative to Rafah, said Ashraf Ajrami, a Cabinet minister in the Palestinian government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Hamas denounced the compromise because it allowed Israel to decide who could enter Gaza. Hamas officials and supporters would presumably not be allowed to enter through Israel. Rafah's closure also means Hamas officials will have difficulty bringing suitcases full of cash from outside supporters into the Gaza Strip.
"The use of any other border crossing increases Israeli control over the Gaza Strip," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev would say only that Israel was searching for "creative solutions" to return the Palestinians to Gaza. "No one wants to see those people trapped indefinitely," Regev said.
In another development, a Gaza union official said the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip will begin paying more than 10,000 civil servants who were cut from the payroll of its rival, the West Bank-based Fatah government.
Ala al-Batta, head of a Hamas-run civil servants' union in Gaza, told a local news radio that more than 10,000 government workers will receive their salaries from Hamas. Hamas officials said payments will begin today.
The payments further distance one Palestinian government controlled by the Islamic militant Hamas in Gaza and another run by a US-backed Cabinet of moderates in the West Bank.
When Hamas took control of Gaza in mid-June, Abbas fired Hamas from the government and installed a new Cabinet headed by Fayyad in the West Bank.
After Gaza's fall to Hamas, Fayyad ordered civil servants in Gaza not to cooperate with Hamas.
Those who ignored the order or were hired by Hamas in the past year did not receive salaries in July. The salaries of civil servants provide for about one-third of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.