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Egypt announces it will open Gaza border

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — After three years of cooperating in the Israeli blockade of Gaza, Egypt said Monday that it will leave its border with the Palestinian territory open indefinitely for humanitarian aid and restricted travel.

With international pressure building to ease the blockade, an Egyptian security official said sealing off Hamas-ruled Gaza has only bred more militancy.

The decision to ease the restrictions erected by Israel to isolate and punish Hamas comes a week after a deadly Israeli raid on a flotilla bound for Gaza. The move restores a link to the outside world for at least some of Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians. It also appeared calculated to defuse anger in the Arab and Muslim world over Egypt's role in maintaining the blockade and to show that Egypt, too, is now pressing Israel to open at least its land crossings with Gaza.

"Egypt is the one that broke the blockade," Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said. "We are not going to let the occupying power escape from its responsibilities."

Israel has not publicly protested the Egyptian move, and officials declined to comment Monday.

The U.S., which has called the current border restrictions unsustainable, is among those pressing for changes. Vice President Joe Biden met Monday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

He released a statement afterward saying 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."

In another escalation of the tension off Gaza's shores, Israeli naval forces shot and killed four men wearing wet suits off the coast on Monday. The militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades said the men were members of its marine unit training for a mission.

Egypt was not exactly a reluctant participant in imposing the blockade. Like Israel, Egypt watched with concern as Hamas militants wrenched control of Gaza from their rivals in the Fatah movement of Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas during bloody street battles in 2007.

Hamas welcomed the Egyptian border measures but said it hoped all Gazans would soon be able to travel freely without restrictions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signaled in recent days that he is open to easing the blockade, but cannot allow ships to sail freely into Gaza's port, fearing weapons will reach Hamas militants. Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, said officials are considering various ideas but declined to elaborate.

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