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Egypt to Ease Gaza Blockade & Permanently Open Border Crossing

Demonstrators wave Palestinian flags during a demonstration in Rafah on Sunday along the border between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip.

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt will open its only crossing with the Gaza Strip this weekend, the Cairo military government announced Wednesday, significantly easing a four-year blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory but setting up a potential conflict with Israel.

Egypt's official Middle East News Agency said the Rafah border crossing would be opened permanently starting Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Fridays and holidays.

This gives Gaza Palestinians a way to freely enter and exit their territory for the first time since 2007, when Hamas overran the territory, and Israel and Egypt closed the crossings.

Israel's crossings are more significant, since they handle most cargo. A year ago Israel significantly eased its restrictions on cargo entering Gaza, but it still severely limits entry and exit of Gazans through its northern crossing into Israel.

MENA said the decision to open the Rafah crossing was part of efforts "to end the status of the Palestinian division and achieve national reconciliation."

The statement said rules in effect before the blockade would be reinstated. At that time, European observers had a role in operating the crossing, and Israel monitored people and cargo to keep out militants and weapons.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby told the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera late last month that the closure of Rafah crossing was about to end, calling the decision to close it "a disgusting matter."

Gazans have circumvented the blockade by operating hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the 9-mile (15-kilometer) Gaza-Egypt border. The tunnels have been used to bring in all manner of products, as well as people. Israel charges Hamas has used the tunnels to import weapons, including rockets that can reach main population centers in Israel's center.

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