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Egypt is partially opening its border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The border crossings are a key issue in Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire talks.
Palestinian men wave red Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Palestinian flags behind razor-wire at a demonstration calling on Egypt to open the border with Gaza, 21 Feb. 2009
Egyptian authorities opened the border with Gaza for the first time in months, partially easing a crippling blockade. More than 2,000 Palestinians students and medical patients, as well as stranded foreigners, will be allowed to leave Gaza during the next three days.
Both Egypt and Israel sealed their borders with Gaza after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the territory nearly two years ago, ousting the forces of western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas . Egypt and Israel are demanding a return to the previous situation in which officials loyal to Mr. Abbas controlled the border crossings under an international agreement.
Former Palestinian Cabinet Minister Ziad abu Zayyad says the blockade has been counterproductive. He says that after Israel"s recent three-week military assault on Gaza, Palestinians need normalcy.
"And normalizing the life in Gaza means opening the passages and allowing people to have all their needs through the passages, whether to Israel or to Egypt," abu Zayyad said. "I think this will be a major step to contributing to peace."
Negotiations are currently underway to reopen the border passages as part of a long-term cease-fire between Hamas and Israel. But the Egyptian-mediated talks hit a snag, when Israel linked any truce with the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held for more than two years by Hamas in Gaza. Israeli Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit.
"This time we have to bring back Gilad home," Sheetrit said. "I think it is inconceivable to believe that we can live him there for more time. It must be one of the conditions to open those passages and one of the conditions for [a]cease-fire."
Israel is prepared to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, but Hamas insists the border crossings must be opened first and that the two issues are not linked. Shalit is a powerful bargaining chip that gives Hamas leverage with Israel, and the group is in no hurry to give him up.
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