Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hundreds cross from Gaza into Egypt

Hundreds of Palestinians are reported to have crossed into Egypt after Cairo opened the border with the Gaza Strip for two days. The opening on Saturday comes ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but only people with pressing humanitarian needs and foreign residency permits are being allowed to cross.

Egyptian security said the Rafah crossing would stay open for two days.

Al Jazeera's Ashraf Amritti, reporting from Gaza, said at least 1,000 people had crossed the border into Egypt so far, most of them residents of Egypt who have been stranded in the Hamas-controlled territory since January.

About 500 people had also crossed from Egypt to Gaza, according to Egyptian and Palestinian officials, he said.

'Alleviating suffering'

Egypt closed the Rafah crossing more than a year ago after Hamas took control of Gaza during fighting with the rival Fatah faction of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

Hamas wants Egypt to open Rafah permanently to ease an Israeli-led blockade on Gaza, but under a US-brokered accord, it cannot do so without the consent of Israel and Abbas.

Egypt said it opened the crossing as a goodwill gesture for Ramadan, which begins next week.

Sami Aby Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said: "The opening of Rafah for a few days will alleviate the suffering of our people."

Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, said: "We thank [Egyptian] president Hosni Mubarak for opening the crossing today, and we hope the opening days will be extended."

Hamas wants Egypt to permanently open Rafah to ease the Israel-led blockade, but under a US-brokered agreement signed in November 2005, they cannot do so without the consent of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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