Agence France Presse (AFP)
February 23, 2009 - 1:00am

Hundreds of people went into and out of the Gaza Strip on Sunday after Egypt opened the Rafah crossing, the enclave's sole crossing that bypasses the Jewish state, a Hamas official told AFP. The Rafah crossing opened at around 9 a.m. and was expected to remain open for three days, said Adel Zurub.

After seven hours, some 420 people had left Gaza and 230 entered the Palestinian coastal territory, he added.

Rafah has been largely closed since June 2006, when Gaza militants seized an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid that followed arrests of scores of Hamas lawmakers, fresh from an election victory over Fatah earlier in the year.

After the Islamists took power by force in what many have termed a pre-empting of an impending US-backed offensive by Fatah, the Israelis tightened their siege of the impoverished enclave.

Various UN and EU officials have slammed the blockade as "collective punishment of a civilian population," an act illegal under international law that the Fourth Geneva convention defines as a war crime.

Under a 2005 agreement struck after Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza, Rafah was operated jointly by Egyptian and Palestinian officials with European Union observers and cameras allowing Israel live surveillance.

During Israel's 22-day war on Gaza at the beginning of the year, Egypt occasionally opened Rafah for limited deliveries of humanitarian aid and the evacuation of a handful of wounded Palestinians.


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