CAIRO: An Egyptian soldier of the border guard unit has been killed in an exchange of gunfire with tunnel smugglers near the border with Gaza, security officials said on Friday.
The soldier was shot in the chest late Thursday night after spotting the smugglers near the Salah Al-Din gate in the border town of Rafah, the officials said, adding the smugglers fled after opening fire.
The incident occurred hours before Egypt announced it would permanently open the Rafah border crossing to ease the blockade on the Palestinian enclave.
The border has been sealed since Hamas seized Gaza in a week of bloody street fighting in 2007, prompting Israel and Egypt to cut off the coastal strip to all but basic supplies.
The blockade led to a growth of tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt, through which smugglers transport everything from cars and cattle to guns.
After president Hosni Mubarak was ousted by a popular revolt in February, the country’s new government has indicated a change of tack in its policy towards the blockade.
Foreign Minister Nabil Al-Araby said in an interview with the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera that his government would "take important steps to help ease the blockade on Gaza in the few days to come," describing the blockade as "shameful."
Earlier this week Egypt hosted Hamas and its rival Fatah faction a meeting that led ended with an elusive reconciliation deal to form an interim government and hold elections in a year.