RAFAH, Egypt — Hundreds of Palestinians living in the blockaded Gaza Strip crossed into Egypt on Wednesday thanks to a surprise Egyptian decision to open the border — a crack — after Israel's deadly raid on an aid flotilla that was trying to breach the siege.
President Hosni Mubarak announced the opening Tuesday, but border officials said it applied only to certain categories of Gaza Palestinians, among them pre-cleared patients with medical emergencies and students with visas to study abroad. All others were sent back.
"They have no compassion, no mercy," said Nefissa Abdelkader, 65, a housewife from the Burayj refugee camp in the Gaza Strip who complains of pain in her back and legs. She said the officials had turned down her request to enter Egypt for medical treatment because she didn't have the correct paperwork.
Egypt allowed busloads of aid from Russia and Oman to cross into Gaza, including tents, blankets, mattresses, electricity generators and medical accessories such as crutches, border officials said. Some 540 Gaza residents also crossed back into the enclave.
Ambulances and vehicles for people with disabilities will be transported to the Gaza Strip on Thursday, the border officials said.
An accredited journalist with an Egyptian passport was blocked from entering Gaza, however.
Egypt usually opens the border for a few days at a time, but Mubarak's order opened it indefinitely.
North Sinai's governor, Maj. Gen. Mourad Mowafi, told McClatchy that the security authorities were coordinating with Egypt's Health Ministry to transport Palestinian patients to hospitals "according to their afflictions."
He said the Health Ministry coordinates with the Islamist Hamas movement, which violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Hamas provides the Egyptian officials with lists of Palestinians who are allowed to receive medical treatment in Egypt.
Thousands of Palestinians reportedly lined up at the border Tuesday after Mubarak's announcement, but most were denied entry.
"The decision was so sudden, there was no time to prepare or coordinate for all the people who wanted to cross," Mahmoud al Zahar, a senior Hamas official, told McClatchy.
Egypt has come under growing criticism from its neighbors and its own population for its apparent partnership with Israel to keep Gaza's population under a blockade.
"Living under a blockade is like living in prison," said Fidaa Zayegh, 27, who was sitting on a pile of suitcases in the arrival hall at the border waiting to see whether she'd be allowed to enter Egypt.
(Naggar is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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