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Egypt opens Gaza Strip border crossing to 500 patients

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Cairo_(dpa) _ Egypt on Wednesday opened its border crossing with the Gaza Strip at the divided town of Rafah to allow some 500 Palestinian medical patients to cross, police said.

Police said the border was opened on Wednesday morning and would remain open until Thursday to allow Palestinian patients to cross into Egypt to receive medical treatment at hospitals in Cairo and to allow recovered Palestinian patients to return from Egypt to the Gaza Strip.

The move came amid increased controversy over Egypt's reported plans to build a reinforced steel wall along the length of its border with the Gaza Strip.

In remarks reported by Cairo's official MENA news agency Tuesday night, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit defended the country's right to bolster its border defences to "defend its national security."

The measures Egypt is taking include "construction, engineering work and ultrasound equipment," MENA quoted him as saying, in what was the clearest official confirmation of the construction to date.

"This is an issue of sovereignty," he told Dubai's al-Arabiya television.

"Egypt was always ready to exert all the needed efforts to defend the Palestinian cause," he said, but "there shouldn't be any kind of violation of Egyptian territory."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, whose brother died in an Egyptian prison last October, blasted Egypt's moves to increase border security.

"We are not talking about borders between Egypt and Israel," he recently told al-Jazeera television. "We are talking about steel borders between two peoples, (when) one of these two peoples is under siege.

"There are Arab League resolutions that call for breaking the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip. Now, instead of taking practical steps to break this siege, we get surprised with this steel wall," he told the Qatari satellite network.

International activists meanwhile said they would go ahead with plans to march on the Egyptian-Gazan border in an attempt to "break the siege of Gaza" on December 31.

"We have set out to break the siege of Gaza and to march on Gaza on December 31 against the international blockade. We are continuing the journey," organizers of the Gaza Freedom March said on their website Tuesday.

They said they had attracted some 1,300 volunteers from 42 countries to march on the border crossing at Rafah in the final days of December, despite what they said was the Egyptian government's refusal to license the protest. dpa hb zar ds

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