Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing with Gaza for two days to allow Palestinian Muslims to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform the umrah pilgrimage, a security official said. "Only those people with visas for the umrah will be allowed to enter Egyptian territory," said the official, adding that buses would take the estimated 2,500 people to Cairo airport so they can fly on to Saudi Arabia. Last year, dozens of pilgrims were prevented by the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza from leaving the impoverished territory to go on the pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca.
The Rafah crossing is the only one from Gaza that does not pass through Israel and has been closed for most of the time since June 2006, when Gaza militants captured an Israeli soldier in a raid on an army border post. A Gaza official confirmed today's opening, which came just hours after a battle between Islamist radicals and Hamas police in Rafah that left 22 people dead and 120 wounded, including an Egyptian child hit by a stray bullet.