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Between Egypt And Gaza, A Renewed Connection

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Between Egypt And Gaza, A Renewed Connection

Middle East

Between Egypt And Gaza, A Renewed Connection

Between Egypt And Gaza, A Renewed Connection

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Hundreds of Palestinians crossed the newly opened border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip Saturday. NPR's Soraya Nelson reports that the move by the Egyptian government was met with restraint by Israel but joy by those who have been locked out by travel restrictions.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Egypt reopened its border with Gaza Strip yesterday, continuing what to many signals a clear shift in policy with Israel. By easing the travel restrictions on people who live in the Palestinian territory, the largest Arab country effectively ended a four-year blockade there and deepened its rift with Israel.

The move follows the agreement reached earlier this month between Palestinian militant rivals Hamas and Fatah. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was on the Egyptian side of the border and has this report.

(Soundbite of crowd talking)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Only a few hundred Palestinians crossed the border in Rafah on the first day it reopened. Many, like Musbah Mohamed Halawin, were infirm. The 55-year-old in a wheelchair was headed to Egypt for spinal surgery.

Mr. MUSBAH MOHAMED HALAWIN: (foreign language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: He says he is thrilled at what he described as a new Islamic Arab border open to everyone. He also praised the Egyptian uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak. He says that's what made the reopening possible.

Fellow traveler Hasna el Rais says the Egyptian move returned a feeling of dignity to Palestinians.

Ms. HASNA EL RAIS: We have the higher spirit now because this is an example of freedom and end of every suffering in the last five years. We suffered too much.

SARHADDI NELSON: Israel and Egypt under Mubarak closed the crossing in 2007. That and a naval blockade were meant to weaken the Islamist militant group Hamas after it seized control of the Gaza Strip. But the moved caused all Gazans to suffer as their economy ground to a halt. Few Palestinians were allowed to cross the border when it did open for short periods.

Israel's response to the reopening was muted, although some officials feared militants and weapons would now flow more freely into the Gaza Strip.

On the Gaza side, Ghazi Hamad, who heads the Border Crossing Authority, waved aside such claims.

Mr. GHAZI HAMAD (Border Crossing Authority): I think everything is working normally here. There's no smuggling, no criminals, no violation of law. So, I think they should not be worried about this.

(Soundbite of people talking)

SARHADDI NELSON: Many travelers were pleased with their trip across the border. They described the process as easier than the past. But one Mubarak-era legacy remains for Palestinian men between the ages of 18 and 40 - they have to be vetted by Egyptian authorities before being allowed to pass.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News.

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