Hundreds flee as Egypt opens border with Gaza
Published 29/05/2011 | 05:00
EGYPT opened its border with Gaza yesterday, letting Palestinians leave the blockaded territory, in a move seen as indicating a more supportive policy since February's revolution.
Hundreds of people laden with luggage gathered at the Rafah crossing in the south of Gaza before the border opened at 9am. Around 300 crossed in the first hours and officials said they expected up to 1,000 to leave Gaza by the end of the day.
Women, children and men over the age of 40 will be permitted free travel from Gaza to Egypt, but men under 40 will be required to apply for and be granted a visa. A large proportion of Gaza's 1.5 million population is aged between 18 and 40.
The crossing will open for eight hours a day, six days a week. In the four years since Hamas took control of Gaza, 18 months after winning elections, and Israel imposed a stringent blockade, the Rafah border has opened only intermittently -- and only students, businessmen and people needing medical treatment have been allowed through.
All other border crossings are with Israel, which has tightly controlled the movement of people and goods.
Despite easing the blockade almost a year ago, Israel continues to forbid certain goods, such as construction materials, from entering Gaza and blocks nearly all exports. Rafah will not be open to commercial traffic.
Former president Hosni Mubarak, who was forced out in February's revolution, was seen as an ally of Israel. The new government last month brokered a reconciliation deal between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, including an agreement to open the border.
"People are happy Rafah is open, they say it's the first step towards breaking the siege of Gaza," said local journalist Hazem Balousha.
The numbers wanting to cross the border is expected to rise when the school year ends in around two weeks.