Egypt-Gaza border could open within 48 hours

19/07/2007 14:12 EL ARISH, Egypt, July 19 (AFP) IC Publications

Egypt’s Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip could be temporarily opened in the next 48 hours to enable thousands of stranded Palestinians to return home, a security source said on Thursday.

“Egyptian, Palestinian and Israeli contacts are underway to open Rafah temporarily in the next 48 hours in order to allow Palestinians to cross into the Gaza Strip,” the security source in the northern Sinai told AFP.

The opening would provide relief for the estimated 6,000 Palestinians living in and around the border town of Rafah in increasingly dire conditions since Hamas violently took over the Gaza Strip on June 15.

European Union monitors who are supposed to observe Rafah border traffic as part of a deal following Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza said they were unaware of any information

Egypt on Thursday stepped up aid deliveries to the Palestinians and police reinforcements in Rafah amid fears that Palestinians on either side of the concrete border wall could try to break through.

Schools have also been opened up to receive some of the Palestinians unable to return home since the Hamas takeover, the official MENA news agency quoted local officials as saying.

Teams of medics have been dispatched to Rafah and to al-Arish hospital, 50 kilometres (about 35 miles) to the west, to treat the sick, in particular those with diabetes, Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali said.

A security source told AFP that police reinforcements had been sent to Rafah, that the road to Al-Arish had been closed in order to stop Palestinians approaching and shops in Rafah forced to close.

MENA also reported what it said was the third stranded Palestinian to die, a 47-year-old woman who had left the Gaza Strip for cancer treatment in Cairo.

The UN World Food Programme said hundreds of tonnes of food aid remained trapped at the border.

Israel has said that an alternative crossing via the Jewish state should be used, allowing it to control who gets in and out of Gaza.

However, the Islamist movement Hamas, which violently ejected rivals from the secular Fatah in June and refuses to recognise Israel, has said it will treat the Israeli crossing as a military target if it is used.

Palestinians on the Gaza side of the border have since demonstrated calling for the reopening of Rafah, the Gaza Strip’s only door to the outside world that does not go via Israel.
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