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Egypt: Gaza blockade a failure, border stays open

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – The Associated Press | 6/7/2010 12:00:00 AM |

An Egyptian security official declared the blockade of Gaza a failure and said his country will keep its border with the Palestinian territory open indefinitely.

An Egyptian security official declared the blockade of Gaza a failure Monday and said his country will keep its border with the Palestinian territory open indefinitely.

Keeping that crossing point open long term would seriously undercut Israel's efforts to isolate and punish Gaza's Hamas rulers and give the Palestinians back a crucial link to the outside the world.

Egypt opened its border with Gaza soon after Israel's deadly raid on an international flotilla of activists trying to break the blockade last week. In another escalation of tension off Gaza's shores Monday, Israeli naval forces shot and killed four men wearing wet suits off the coast, and the militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades said they were members of its marine unit training for a mission.

Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement Monday the U.S. is closely consulting with Egypt and other allies to find new ways to "address the humanitarian, economic, security, and political aspects of the situation in Gaza." He spoke in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt and Israel have maintained the blockade since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, with Israel describing it as an essential measure to stop weapons from reaching the militant group. The Egyptian security official said, however, that the closure has failed to achieve its goals, including the release of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas since 2006. Israeli airstrikes and Egyptian efforts have also not choked off the bustling smuggling trade that makes use of hundreds of tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border.

The security official said a new policy must be found to end the suffering of the Palestinians, while keeping pressure on Hamas. He spoke Monday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The official said Israel is now under pressure to at least open all its land crossings with Gaza. Egypt will keep its border crossing at the town of Rafah open indefinitely but will not allow large cargo or shipments of construction material through because the terminal is designed primarily to be a civilian passage, the official said.

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