Deal imminent on stranded Palestinians on Egypt border

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RAMALLAH, West Bank: A Palestinian cabinet minister on Thursday said a deal should be reached early next week to allow 6,000 stranded Palestinians to cross from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. In principle at the beginning of next week, the problem of the travelers blocked at Rafah will be resolved thanks to an arrangement allowing them to go to Gaza, information minister Riyad Al-Malki told a news conference. Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, a Palestinian official said those blocked at Rafah would cross from Egypt into Israel at Nizana, and then be driven to the Erez terminal with Gaza. The official said the agreement should be implemented as of Sunday. Some 6,000 Palestinians are estimated to be living in and around Egypt s border town of Rafah in increasingly dire conditions since the local border terminal closed 45 days ago. More than 10 travelers have died. The Rafah terminal – Gaza s only door onto the outside world that bypasses Israel – has been shut since deadly Palestinian infighting saw Hamas seize the Gaza Strip on June 15. When open, Rafah is operated in tight cooperation among Egypt, EU monitors, Israel and the Palestinians, and can close if any one party refuses to participate in the coordination. Israel has, in this way, shut down Rafah almost continuously since June 2006, when Gaza militants seized an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid. It sealed the crossing completely after the Gaza takeover by Hamas. Hamas refuses to allow another border terminal – that of Kerem Shalom on a three-way trajectory between Gaza, Egypt and Israel – to function. Opening the crossing to travelers would allow Israel to exert physical control over those Palestinians crossing.

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