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Hamas hails 'courageous' move to open Rafah border

May 26, 2011 4:14 P.M. (Updated: May 27, 2011 10:02 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (AFP) -- Gaza's Hamas rulers on Thursday welcomed as "courageous" an Egyptian decision to open permanently the Rafah border crossing between the two territories.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum hailed the move as "a courageous and responsible decision which falls in line with Palestinian and Egyptian public opinion."

"We hope that it is a step towards the complete lifting of the siege on Gaza," he said in a statement, calling on the world "to follow Egypt's example" in breaking the Israeli blockade which has been in place since 2006.

Egypt said Wednesday it would open the Rafah crossing on a daily basis in a bid to ease the blockade.

The measure, which will come into force Saturday, will give Gazans a gateway to the world as Rafah is the only crossing which does not pass through Israel.

The frontier will now be opened for eight hours a day from 9:00 a.m., with the exception of Fridays and public holidays, Egypt's official MENA news agency said.

Until now, it had been open only intermittently, mainly for Palestinians who can prove humanitarian need.

The decision to open the border has deeply worried Israel, with Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai telling Israeli public radio it would create "a very problematic situation."

It was not immediately clear whether the move would be limited to the passage of people across the frontier, or whether it would include the movement of goods.

Plans to open the crossing on a permanent basis were first announced at the end of April, a day after Hamas reached a surprise reconciliation deal with its Fatah rivals who control the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

The Rafah crossing has remained largely shut since June 2006 when Israel imposed a tight blockade on the territory after militants there snatched Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.

The blockade was tightened a year later when the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory, ousting forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

Israel took steps to ease the measure last summer following a wave of international pressure after its troops staged a botched raid on an aid flotilla which was trying to break the embargo, killing nine Turkish activists.

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