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Egypt to open border crossing

| Thursday, May 26, 2011

CAIRO — Egypt will permanently open its border crossing with the Gaza Strip this weekend, the government announced on Wednesday, suggesting that military leaders are being swayed by growing sentiment here in favor of distancing the country from Israel.

Opening the Rafah crossing, the only official entry point outside Israel into the Palestinian territory, would ease the blockade imposed after the militant group Hamas took control of the strip in 2007.

A report by Egypt's state-run Middle East News Agency said the move was being adopted to "end the status of the Palestinian division and achieve national reconciliation."

The report said the border would reopen Saturday but provided no other details.

Israel warned that fully reopening the crossing could allow Hamas to build up its arsenal and create a dangerous situation. An Israeli government official urged Egypt to continue blocking arms shipments to Hamas.

Bowing to Israeli concerns and worried about a spillover of Islamic militant activity into Egypt, the Egyptian government has kept the Rafah crossing closed or partially closed in the years since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. Until last year, Egypt had opened the crossing periodically for a few days at a time every several weeks for a limited number of people, mostly medical cases and students.

In the past year, however, the crossing has been opened for limited passage since a deadly Israeli naval raid on a Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza in May 2010 drew attention to the Israeli and Egyptian border closures. Israel was compelled to ease its Gaza blockade under international pressure after the flotilla raid.

Since the Egyptian revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February, no more than 300 Palestinians a day were allowed to leave Gaza. Now that limit will be lifted, and other restrictions will be eased, officials said.

Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, said in a telephone interview that Egypt linked opening the border to the recent reconciliation pact between Hamas and Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian faction that administers the West Bank. Now that the pact has been signed, Egypt is following through with its commitment, he said.

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