Rafah border 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Egypt opened its sealed border crossing with the Gaza Strip on Saturday, allowing hundreds of people to enter and leave the coastal territory in a goodwill gesture before a holy Muslim month, officials said.
Palestinians who live abroad and Egyptians stuck in Gaza because of the sealed border, gathered at dawn in a nearby sporting center, where Hamas police shipped them to the Gaza-Egypt crossing in buses.
The Rafah crossing was sealed after Hamas seized power of the Gaza Strip in June last year, effectively penning in 1.5 million Gaza residents into the tiny coastal territory. Egyptian officials have infrequently opened the crossing since.
Israel has also sealed its crossings with Gaza, only allowing in humanitarian aid and a trickle of commercial goods.
Hamas' interior ministry, eager to demonstrate its ability to control security on the Gaza side of the crossing, did not allow residents to approach the southern passageway on Saturday morning. Palestinians have traditionally crushed at the border crossing, causing chaos while jostling to get to the top of lines to leave Gaza.
People eligible to enter Egypt were told to gather in the southern town of Khan Younis at dawn, where their applications were processed. At least four buses crossed through to the Egyptian side where hundreds of police crowded to ensure security.
Egypt said it opened the crossing as a goodwill gesture for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which begins next week.
"We thank (Egyptian) President Hosni Mubarak for opening the crossing today, and we hope the opening days will be extended," said Gaza Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in a statement to the press.
Over Saturday and Sunday, Egypt will allow Palestinian students enrolled in universities abroad to leave Gaza, along with those with foreign residencies and work visas.
Around 300 Egyptians stuck in Gaza after they entered the territory after Hamas gunmen breached the border in January. They have been unable to return home for months. Some 400 Palestinians needing medical treatment will also head to Egypt on Sunday, officials said.
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