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Gaza-Egypt Border Reopens After Weeks

August 10, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ The Gaza-Egypt border was partially reopened Thursday, allowing hundreds of people stuck in Gaza to leave after weeks of closure during Israel’s military offensive in the coastal strip, a spokeswoman for European border monitors said.

The crossing is to be open for two days to allow students, business people and those requiring medical treatment to travel to Egypt, said the spokeswoman, Maria Telleria. About 500 sick people, many of them cancer patients, were given permission to cross the border, said Dr. Omar Shehada, head of overseas medical treatment at the Palestinian Authority.

People would not be allowed to cross from Egypt into Gaza.

The Rafah crossing was closed after Hamas-allied militants captured an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, during a cross-border raid on June 25. The seizure triggered an Israeli offensive in Gaza aimed at freeing him and stopping rocket attacks on Israeli border towns.

Israel had feared the militants would try to smuggle Shalit out of Gaza if the border was open. It was only opened briefly once since the raid to allow Palestinians stranded in Egypt to return to Gaza.

``Since the border closed on June 25, we’ve been trying to open it,″ said Telleria. ``This is the longest period the border has been closed since the Europeans began″ monitoring, she said.

The Palestinians, backed by EU monitors, took control of the Gaza-Egypt border after Israel withdrew from the coastal strip last summer.

By midday, hundreds of Palestinians waited on the Egyptian side near the crossing, apparently hoping their presence would pressure authorities to let them enter the coastal strip.

``I came to this crossing more than 10 times _ whenever I heard rumors that it would open,″ said Abdullah Abdel Rahman Belbasi, a 30-year-old Palestinian worker who entered Egypt a month ago for surgery to his arm after being shot.

Also Thursday, doctors said a 5-year-old Palestinian girl initially believed to have been killed by a military strike by Israel on Wednesday apparently died after sustaining head injuries during a fall from a swing. The girl suffered a fractured skull and there were no signs of shrapnel, said Kazim Abu Libda, a doctor at Gaza’s Shifa hospital.

In the West Bank, Israeli troops surrounded a five-story building in the West Bank city of Ramallah before dawn, exchanging fire with Palestinian gunmen inside, Palestinian security officials said.

After a standoff of several hours, six militants surrendered to the troops. There were no immediate reports of casualties. The army had no comment on the raid.

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