Sunday, June 28, 2009



Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border, 27/06
Students and medical patients were among those allowed through

Egypt has opened its Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip for three days, allowing some Palestinians to leave the blockaded territory.

About 400 people were able to cross into Egypt, with priority given to students, patients and officials.On the Egyptian side, 700 people and 10 trucks with medical aid from Arab countries waited to enter.

Gaza has been blockaded by Israel, and much of the time by Egypt, for two years since Hamas took control there.

But a spokesman for Unrwa - the UN agency for Palestinian refugees - said the opening would not help the reconstruction of Gaza.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya (C) visits Rafah crossing 27 June
Hamas leader Ismail Haniya expressed hope for a "complete" re-opening

"It's going to make a very small difference, if any," Chris Gunness told the BBC's Newshour programme. "Rafah is designed not for industrial levels of building materials and other humanitarian supplies that need to go into Gaza."

Among those who have been given permission to pass through are officials attending the latest round of Palestinian unity talks in Cairo, students, and Palestinians needing urgent medical treatment.

Surprise visit

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya made a surprise visit to the crossing and expressed hope for a "complete" re-opening.

"We are prepared and ready [to operate the crossing] according to arrangements undertaken with our Egyptian brothers, the Europeans, [President Mahmoud Abbas's] presidential guard and the [Hamas-run] government," he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

Map of Gaza

Despite considerable criticism in the Arab world, the Egyptian government has kept Rafah largely shut since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007, insisting that the authority of President Abbas be restored.

However, Cairo is continuing to play a significant diplomatic role, including acting as a go-between for Israel and Hamas.

It is exactly six months since the start of Israel's military offensive in Gaza, and relations with the Palestinian Islamists of Hamas remain extremely tense.

In recent days there has been increased speculation about a possible deal to exchange captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for Palestinian prisoners.