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Israel reopens Gaza-Egypt border crossing
Updated: 2004-08-07 01:29

Israel reopened the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt on Friday, allowing some 1,500 Palestinians to head home after being stranded in Egypt for three weeks.

The first busload of Palestinians crossed into Gaza early Friday. Hundreds of Palestinians had slept on the ground near the crossing during the closure. The Haaretz newspaper Web site reported U.S. pressure forced Israel to reopen the crossing.

Palestinians collect their bags shortly after crossing the border between Rafah and Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip of Rafah, Friday Aug. 6, 2004. Israel reopened the Gaza-Egypt border crossing Friday, allowing some 1,500 Palestinians to head home after being stranded in Egypt for three weeks.[AP]
Israel closed the Rafah terminal on July 18, saying it had intelligence information that Palestinian militants had dug a tunnel under the crossing or a nearby Israeli army outpost and were planning to blow it up.

During the closure, hundreds of Palestinians slept outdoors near the Rafah terminal, while others waited at hostels or returned to Cairo. Earlier this week, Egypt warned of a humanitarian crisis.

Nihad Abu Jazar, 22, a third-year student at Cairo University, had waited for 21 days to cross the terminal. Jumping off the bus, Abu Jazar fell into the arms of her relatives, tears streaming down her face.

She said she was forced to violate Islamic custom by being constantly in the presence of men. She said she almost broke down several times and returned to Cairo. "But every time I convinced myself that they might open any time and to be honest I don't have enough money. My father is unemployed," Abu Jazar said.

The travelers spent the first week sleeping on the ground, Abu Jazar said. Later, the Egyptians and charity organizations brought basic supplies, including mattresses. But there were not enough toilet facilities, and people were forced to stand for hours waiting to use the bathroom.

Israel Army Radio said the crossing would be open for extra hours Friday and Saturday to allow travelers to return home as quickly as possible.

Under terms of interim peace accords, Israel controls the crossings between the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries.

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