Gaza flotilla
Israeli Navy personnel board one of the ships of the Gaza aid flotilla on Monday May 31, 2010. Photo by Getty Images
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AP
Egypt President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, May 9, 2010. Photo by AP

Egypt opened its border with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, letting Palestinians cross until further notice amid a storm of international criticism of Israel's blockade of the enclave, officials in Egypt and Gaza said.

 

The move, urged by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas against whom the embargo has been directed, prompted dozens of people to race to the crossing point in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, though the gates appeared still to be closed.

 

It is the only point on Gaza's borders that is not fully controlled by Israel. Cairo, coordinating with Israel, has opened it only sparingly since Hamas Islamists, who are allied to Egypt's opposition, seized control of Gaza three years ago.

 

A permanent opening of the crossing, which lies above a stretch of desert frontier riddled by hundreds of smuggling tunnels, would be a major boost for Hamas and a blow to efforts by Israel and its Western allies to cripple the Islamists.

 

The Interior Ministry run by Hamas since it seized control of the Gaza Strip from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007 said in a statement: "Rafah crossing is open every day from 9 A.M to 7 P.M." Since Hamas took over, Egypt has opened the crossing only sporadically and with restrictions.

 

An Egyptian security source told Reuters: "Egypt opened its border with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to allow humanitarian and medical aid to enter the Strip.

 

"The border will remain open for an unlimited time," the source said, letting Palestinians enter and leave Egypt.

 

Aid convoys, to which Egypt has in the past allowed only limited access, would be allowed to use the crossing, subject to following Cairo's limitation that only food and medical supplies be transported.

 

"Hard materials" - apparently including concrete and steel which Gazans want to repair damage from last year's Israeli offensive - would have to go via Israel, the Egyptian source said. Israel has made clear since it halted a Turkish-backed aid convoy at sea on Monday that it will not ease its embargo.