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Egypt blocks Sinai access to halt Gaza march

May 13, 2011 9:07 P.M. (Updated: May 15, 2011 7:12 P.M.)
EL-ARISH, Egypt (AFP) -- Egyptian authorities on Friday blocked access to the Sinai peninsula to prevent a march from Cairo to Gaza, as thousands protested at the Israeli embassy in Cairo, AFP correspondents said.

The march was due to leave from Cairo's Tahrir Square on Saturday to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and call for the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the release of all Palestinian prisoners.

"Peace Bridge", one of the main access routes to Sinai from mainland Egypt, has been closed to all but residents of the peninsula.

The army also stepped up security around the peninsula, a security official said.

The march is timed to coincide with the anniversary of the day Israel was established, referred to in Arabic as the "Nakba," or "catastrophe."

More than 760,000 Palestinians -- estimated today to number 4.7 million with their descendants -- fled or were driven out of their homes in the conflict that followed Israel's creation.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood party said Friday that Hamas had urged Egyptians to cancel plans to march through the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip.

Hamas leader Khalid Mash'al said relief aid and political measures would be more effective at present, warning the protesters against a military confrontation with Israel, according to a statement on the Muslim Brotherhood website.

Mashaal was quoted as saying Palestinians "cannot expose Egypt to the burden ... We cannot call on it to engage in a direct clash or war with the Zionist Entity at the critical stage that Egypt is passing through."

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters gathered outside the Israeli embassy in central Cairo to demand the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the severance of ties with the state.

"Bring down the flag" the protesters chanted as army and police officers stepped up security around the building housing the embassy.

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