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Hamas closes traffic to Egypt until visa demands met

By the CNN Wire Staff
A Palestinian boy waits to cross the border from Gaza to Egypt with his family on Saturday.
A Palestinian boy waits to cross the border from Gaza to Egypt with his family on Saturday.
  • NEW: Hamas blocks Rafah Crossing as it demands more leniency from Egypt
  • Palestinians sat on buses for hours at the crossing
  • Egypt reopened the Rafah Crossing last week
  • Repairs blocked traffic from Gaza into Egypt
  • Egypt
  • Gaza
  • Rafah

(CNN) -- Hamas on Sunday said it would keep the Palestinian side of the Rafah Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt closed until the Egyptian government allows more Palestinians to cross the border each day and relax certain visa requirements.

The decision came a day after Palestinians traveling to Egypt stormed a gate at the border crossing after waiting for hours in buses as Egyptians temporarily closed the vehicle crossing for repairs.

Saturday's unrest was the first kink in cross-border travel after Egypt reopened the crossing with Gaza in May, a symbolic move that signaled the Cairo government's greater support of Palestinian aspirations.

On Sunday, Egyptians opened their side of the crossing, but Hamas refused to open the Palestinian side, said Hatim Awaida, director-general of the crossing. In addition to larger numbers of Palestinians to be allowed to cross, Hamas wants those older than 40 and younger 18 to be permitted to enter Egypt without visas.

In the meantime, Palestinians are blocked from crossing the border, Awaida said.

The Rafah Crossing had been subject to frequent closures by Egypt after Hamas, the Islamic militant group, took control of Gaza in 2007.

The closure of the border had been part of an embargo policy by Egypt and Israel aimed at cutting off Hamas, but the embargo created an economic hardship on the Palestinian territory by limiting shipments of goods.

Saturday's incident occurred when a few busloads of Palestinians arrived at the main crossing but couldn't get through.

Egyptians were doing maintenance on the vehicle crossing from Gaza into Egypt and had to close it down for the repairs. But Egyptians didn't inform Gaza officials about the work.

Some of the passengers on the four buses at the gate became agitated after waiting for hours. They got out of their buses and forcibly pushed the gate until they broke the chain on it and went across the border.

There were no injuries in the incident. Egypt escorted the passengers back to the Gaza side and the buses went back to their destinations in Gaza.

CNN's Kareem Khadder contributed to this report