Hundreds leave Gaza as Egypt opens border

Other News Materials 31 August 2008 02:28 (UTC +04:00)

Egypt opened its border crossing with the Gaza Strip on Saturday, allowing more than 2,500 people to leave the Hamas-controlled territory and about 1,000 to enter, Palestinian officials said.

Egyptian security and border sources said the Rafah crossing would open for two days to allow Gazans with foreign residence permits and humanitarian cases to cross into Egypt.

Egypt has only opened the Rafah crossing occasionally since the Islamist movement Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip more than a year ago stranding many, including hundreds of Egyptian citizens, in the coastal enclave.

By 10 p.m. (8:00 p.m. British time) on Saturday when the border gates closed, Palestinian officials said more than 2,500 Egyptians and Gazans with foreign residency permits had crossed into Egypt and some 1,000 had entered the coastal territory.

Officials said the border had stayed open about two hours longer than planned to cope with the traffic. The gates will reopen on Sunday morning, the officials added.

Hamas wants Egypt to open Rafah permanently to ease the Israel-led blockade on Gaza, but under a U.S.-brokered accord it cannot do so without the consent of Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah movement is Hamas's rival.

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

Hamas routed Abbas's forces in June 2007 to take over the Gaza Strip. Abbas, in response, dismissed the Hamas-led government and appointed a new administration in the occupied West Bank where his Fatah faction holds sway.

Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet in Jerusalem on Sunday, days after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a visit to the region that little progress had been made towards achieving a limited peace accord before President George W. Bush leaves office in January.

Representatives of the rival Palestinian factions have been meeting in Cairo seeking reconciliation among themselves, but officials familiar with the talks said agreement looked unlikely.

Tension between Fatah and Hamas remains high, and thousands of government employees, medical workers and teachers affiliated with Fatah went on strike in the Gaza Strip on Saturday over what they said was their poor treatment by Hamas.

Hamas threatened to penalise Gazans for not reporting to work and to strip doctors of their private practices if they did not show up at public hospitals.

"No one, no institution and no union will be allowed to sabotage the security of Gaza's citizens," Hamas's health minister, Basim Naeem, said. "We will inflict the most severe punishments."

A pro-Fatah workers union said the strike could continue until Tuesday.

Highlighting the rift, the Gaza Strip officially ended daylight saving time on Saturday while Palestinians in the West Bank remained synchronised with Israel and other countries in the time zone, Reuters reported.