By Nidal al-Mughrabi
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - Hamas policemen at the Rafah border crossing toured nearby coffee shops on Saturday calling on travelers to Egypt to go to the terminal which emptied fast under Cairo's easier travel procedures.
"Is there anyone who wants to travel?" asked a black-uniformed Hamas policeman at a cafe near the border terminal gate.
Under the new regulations implemented by Egypt on Saturday, far more Gaza travelers can use Rafah crossing, the Hamas-controlled enclave's doorway to the world, after Cairo waived visa requirements for women, minors and men over 40.
The crossing will also operate six days a week instead of five and working hours are to be extended by two hours a day.
"It is a historic day," said bearded 52-year-old Jamal Abu Jalalah, going to visit his mother-in-law in Cairo.
"Last time they sent me back saying my documents were not complete and that I didn't have a visa, now I hope to cross under the new, great move Egypt has made," he said as he jumped into the bus heading toward the Egyptian gate.
Some 450 passengers crossed into the Egyptian side of the terminal within the first four hours of it opening for business on Saturday. Previously, the terminal could cope with no more than about 300 outgoing passengers per day.
Anticipating larger passenger numbers on the first day of the easier procedures, Gaza's Hamas administration substituted the usual taxis that take people to the terminal with buses. Taxi drivers complained that they were losing customers.
Palestinians say the Egyptian move marks a new era in relations after the ousting of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who helped maintain the blockade and sided with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas's rival.
Inside the Egyptian passport hall, Talib Hamdy, a Palestinian coming back to Gaza after 10 years of work in Europe, said the new regulations allowed him to return home now he was assured travel in and out of Gaza would be easier.
"I am very happy about this decision. I have decided to return after a long absence, now without any complicated procedures," Hamdy said.
"I know that people used to stand at the border for more than two weeks without being able to cross. But now travel in both directions has been made easy," he added.
In contrast to the larger numbers of outgoing passengers, the scene for incoming travelers was unchanged. Some coming to Gaza pushed trolleys with bulging suitcases and others brought electrical goods, a common scene as items in Egypt are cheaper.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed El-Shemi, Rafah, Egypt; Editing by Ori Lewis)