Egypt to Reopen Rafah for Palestinian Pilgrims

Egypt will reopen the Rafah border with the Gaza Strip for three days from Saturday to allow Palestinians to leave the blockaded territory for the Muslim hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca.

"Egypt has announced the reopening of the Rafah border for three days from Saturday… to allow the passage of some 3,000 Palestinian pilgrims who hold visas for Saudi Arabia," the official said on Friday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Rafah would be opened only for Palestinian pilgrims leaving the Hamas-run Gaza Strip en route to Saudi Arabia.

But Egyptian authorities also said that the crossing was opening on Friday exceptionally to allow 120 sick Palestinians from Gaza to be hospitalized in Egypt.

In the meantime, three Palestinians were wounded when Israeli troops backed by tanks mounted an incursion into the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, shelling suspected militants, medics and witnesses said.

"The three wounded were evacuated," said Muawiya Hassanein, who heads the emergency services in Gaza.

Witnesses earlier spoke of two deaths during the Israeli operation while the Israeli army said one Palestinian appeared to have been killed.

The Israeli army confirmed it conducted an operation along the border and said there was an exchange of fire with militants near the city of Khan Yunis.

"A unit conducting a routine patrol along the border fence" spotted armed men who were setting explosives by the fence, a military spokeswoman said.

A small militant group, the Popular Resistance Committees, said one of its fighters escaped an Israeli strike during the incursion.

Israel has imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza since the Hamas movement seized power in Gaza in June 2007.

A truce went into force on June 19 between Israel and Hamas, but since November 4 there has been a spate of cross-border attacks which led Israel to further tighten the crippling blockade.

Aid agencies have expressed fears the Gaza borders closure will lead to a further worsening of the humanitarian situation in the overcrowded, aid-dependent sliver of land.

(Agencies via Alarabiya.net)

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