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Egypt lets hundreds enter and exit Gaza

August 31, 2008|From the Associated Press

GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP — Egypt opened its border crossing with the Gaza Strip on Saturday, allowing hundreds of people to enter and leave the coastal territory in a goodwill gesture before the holy Muslim month of Ramadan begins, officials said.

Palestinians who live abroad or are seeking medical treatment and Egyptians stuck in Gaza because of the sealed border gathered at dawn in a nearby sporting center. Hamas police took them in buses to the Rafah crossing.

On the Egyptian side, hundreds of Palestinians massed to cross back into Gaza after being shut out for months.

"I am going back home," said Umm Usama, an Egyptian woman married to a Palestinian man, who had come to visit relatives. "Thank you, President Mubarak, for letting us return home before Ramadan," which begins Monday.

The Rafah crossing was sealed after the Islamist Hamas group took control of Gaza in June 2007; Israel also imposed a blockade, confining 1.5 million residents to the tiny territory. Egyptian officials have infrequently opened the crossing since, though in January, Hamas gunmen breached the border, allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Egyptians to cross back and forth before Egypt clamped it shut again.

Israel allows in only humanitarian aid and a trickle of commercial goods.

One Gazan who has lived in Saudi Arabia for 23 years said he came to visit his ailing mother before the Hamas takeover and ended up stuck in the territory for 20 months.

Hamas' Interior Ministry did not allow residents to approach the southern passageway Saturday morning, possibly to prevent chaos.

About 1,000 people had crossed into Egypt by afternoon and 500 Palestinians entered Gaza, Hamas said.

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