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Egypt will open the Rafah border crossing on a daily basis starting this weekend in a bid to ease the blockade on the
Egyptian authorities will open border six days a week in bid to ease blockade on Gaza Strip despite Israel’s worries.
By Jailan Zayan - CAIRO
Gaza Strip, the official MENA news agency reported on Wednesday.
Palestinians will now be able to travel through Rafah -- Gaza's only crossing that bypasses Israel-- under entry rules in place before the blockade was tightened in 2007.
Egyptian authorities will now open the border from "9:00 am to 5:00 pm on a daily basis, except for Fridays and public holidays" starting on Saturday, MENA said.
"Palestinian women of all ages will be exempted from visas as will men under 18 or over 40," it said.
The exemption also applies to Palestinians entering Egypt for study as long as they have proof of affiliation to an Egyptian university.
"The opening of the crossing comes as part of Egyptian efforts to end the state of Palestinian division and achieve national reconciliation," the news agency reported.
Although Egypt had been gradually easing restrictions on the Gaza border -- it had been operating five days a week -- Palestinians needed to coordinate with security authorities before entering Egypt or had to show humanitarian need.
The move is likely to rattle Israel which said earlier this month it was "worried" by Egypt's plans to reopen the crossing.
Israeli deputy prime minister Silvan Shalom claimed the opening of the border "could allow the passage of arms and terrorists."
Egypt's Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi had announced that Cairo planned to open the crossing, ending what he called his country's "shameful" cooperation in keeping it closed.
The decision was made as Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas met to agree a reconciliation deal in Cairo.
Palestinian officials had welcomed Arabi's announcement, with chief negotiator Saeb Erakat saying it was one step towards loosening the siege on the Gaza Strip.
The border has remained largely shut since June 2006 when Israel imposed a tight blockade on Gaza after militants snatched Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.
The blockade was tightened a year later when Hamas seized control of the territory, ousting forces loyal to the Western-backed PA.
The United Nations has called the blockade illegal and repeatedly demanded it be lifted.
Egypt has actively supported Israel's blockade, frequently coming in for harsh regional criticism for keeping the border closed and for building an underground wall in a bid to curb smuggling, which it views as a security risk.
But earlier this year, mass street protests led to the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak, with the new military regime keen to review its policy on Gaza.
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