(AFP) – Aug 31, 2008
GAZA CITY (AFP) — The Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip was open for a second day Sunday to allow hundreds of people to pass into and out of the besieged territory, officials said.
Seventeen buses carrying over 800 people, including medical patients requiring treatment abroad, students, and foreign visa holders, were lined up on the Gaza side, Mohammed Odwan, a spokesman for the crossing, told AFP.
On Saturday some 1,900 people crossed into Egypt and nearly 900 crossed from Egypt into Gaza, Odwan said, adding that the crossing would close Sunday night.
Israel has sealed Gaza off from all but limited humanitarian aid since the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in June 2007 after driving out forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
The sanctions have remained despite a two-month-old truce between Israel and Palestinian militants that has mostly halted the firing of rockets on southern Israel and brought calm to the impoverished territory of 1.5 million people.
Israel has said Rafah -- the only crossing it does not control -- should not be opened until progress is made on releasing Gilad Shalit, a 22-year-old corporal captured by Gaza militants in a deadly cross-border raid in 2006.
An Israeli security official speaking on condition of anonymity said the decision to open the crossing on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was taken by Egypt to ease tensions with Hamas.
"The opening of the Rafah crossing was a chance to let out steam between Hamas and Egypt, which continues its regular contacts with Hamas in Gaza and abroad (in Syria) on the issue of Gilad Shalit," the official said.
Egypt has long served as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, which is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States, and the European Union.
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