RAFAH, Gaza Strip – Egypt lifted a four-year-old blockade on the Gaza Strip's main link to the outside world Saturday, bringing relief to the crowded territory's 1.5 million Palestinians but deepening a rift with Israel since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year.
The Egyptian move will allow thousands of Gazans to move freely in and out of the area — heightening Israeli fears that militants and weapons could easily reach its doorstep.
Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after the Islamic militant Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007. The closure, which also included tight Israeli restrictions at its cargo crossings with Gaza and a naval blockade, was meant to weaken Hamas, but it also fueled an economic crisis in the densely populated territory.
Hundreds of Gazans gathered early Saturday as the first bus load of passengers crossed the border at 9 a.m. Two Egyptian officers stood guard next to a large Egyptian flag atop the border gate as the vehicle rumbled through.
Rami Arafat, 52, was among the earliest arrivals. He said he hoped to catch a flight out of Cairo on Sunday to Algeria for his daughter's wedding.
"All we need is to travel like humans, be treated with dignity, and feel like any other citizens of the world who can travel in and out freely," Arafat said. He said he believed the relaxing of travel restrictions "will guarantee more support from all Arabs and Palestinians for the new Egyptian regime." (AP)