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Hundreds leave Gaza as Egypt opens border
GAZA, AUG 30 (Reuters):
Published on 31 Aug. 2008 12:21 AM IST
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Egypt opened its border crossing with the Gaza Strip on Saturday, allowing hundreds of people to leave the Hamas-controlled territory, Palestinian officials said. Egyptian security and border sources said the Rafah crossing would stay open for two days to allow Gazans with foreign residence permits and humanitarian cases to cross into Egypt. Egypt closed Rafah after the Islamist movement Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip more than a year ago, and hundreds of Egyptian citizens have been stuck in the coastal enclave. With the reopening, some 500 people have crossed into Egypt and 700 have returned home to Gaza, the Egyptian sources said. Palestinian officials said more than 1,000 Egyptians and Gazans with foreign residency permits had crossed into Egypt. 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. Representatives of the rival Palestinian factions have been meeting in Cairo seeking reconciliation, 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 savings time on Saturday while Palestinians in the West Bank will not change their clocks for several days.

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