In a landmark move, Egypt is allowing Palestinians free entry into its territory, ending part of a long-term blockade on Gaza.
The blockade was imposed by Egypt, with the help of Israel, in June 2007 to take a tougher line on Palestinian travelers, due to fears of Hamas insurgents.
Now that Egypt has an Islamist president in power, the country has eased the visa restrictions on Palestinians traveling from Gaza, thus ending its long term assistance in Israel's siege of the area.
Previously, Palestinians under the age of 40 had to be escorted by security agents to or from the Gaza border. This procedure often meant detention at the border or airport for up to three days.
Palestinian and Egyptian officials said on Monday that Cairo had lifted visa requirements for Gazans under 40, traveling with a family to Egypt, through the Rafah border crossing.
Maher Abu Sabha, Director of Borders in Gaza's Hamas-run government has said, "We were officially informed by the Egyptian side of a decision to allow any Palestinian under the age of 40 to travel through Rafah with his family without a visa, starting today.
The new move by Egypt's government has raised concerns from security agencies assisting Israel's 5-year Gaza blockade.
Under the new measures, Palestinians can cross through to Egypt, under their own arrangements and are allowed to stay in the country for up to 72 hours. Previously the Rafah border terminal had functioned at a limited capacity with only certain classes of people, including businessmen, students or medical patients, eligible to travel through. With the new system, virtually anyone can travel through.
The MENA news agency reports that an unidentified Egyptian official at the Rafah crossing has said that an existing list of Palestinians barred from entry is under review. A further unnamed Palestinian official in Cairo has said that both sides are working together to further ease the restrictions.
Sabha has said that more than 20,000 Gazans are currently on a two-month waiting list to exit the territory.
Hatem Awideh, director general of the Hamas border authority in Gaza, told reporters, "Today is a cornerstone for a new era that we hope will pave the road to ending the siege and blockade on Gaza. We hope this facilitation by our Egyptian brothers will improve travel and will allow everyone to leave Gaza."