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Egyptian border under pressure as raids continue
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The Egyptian border with the Palestinian territory of Gaza Strip is under pressure as the Palestinians in the costal enclave tried to cross into Egypt to flee the Israeli attacks that entered the second day on Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon, Israeli warplanes began to strike by rockets the borderline between southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah and Egypt, aiming at destroying hundreds of underground tunnels, witnesses in Rafah said.

The Palestinians near the border areas started to break down the Egyptian-Gaza border fence shortly after the Israeli airstrikes stormed the southern Gaza area.

Clashes erupted between Egyptian border guards and the Palestinians who tried to cross into the Egyptian side.

An Egyptian officer was killed on Sunday by unidentified Palestinian gunman from Gaza Strip who crossed into the Egyptian side near the Rafah border crossing, the Egyptian Nile TV reported.

The officer of the Egyptian border guards was shot twice in the stomach and died of his wounds, the report quoted security sources as saying on condition of anonymity.

Two Palestinians from Gaza crossed into Egypt near the Rafah border crossing and broke into an Egyptian house, the sources said, adding one of them opened fire at the Egyptian officer.

The Egyptian MENA news agency said the killed Egyptian officer was identified as Maj. Yasir Essawi, adding that two Egyptian soldiers were also wounded in the shootout.

According to earlier reports, hundreds of Palestinians breached the Egyptian-Gaza border fence in several places to flee the Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave during which at least 285 Gazans have so far been killed and some 900 others wounded.

Witnesses said the Egyptian border guards fired tear gas to keep the Palestinians away from the broken border wall.

On Saturday, Israel started launching air strikes against Gaza from 11:30 a.m. local time (0930 GMT), hitting more than 30 targets, most of them security compounds run by the Islamic Hamas movement.

The coastal strip was under intensive Israeli air strikes for the second successive day on Sunday, which Israel said was aimed at halting nearly daily cross-border rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

According to Hamas security sources, Israel carried out more than 50 airstrikes through Sunday, leaving several security buildings, including Gaza central prison, destroyed.

Last week, Egypt boosted its security measures along its border with Gaza in anticipation of an Israeli attacks on the Palestinian enclave, which has been under control of Hamas since June 2007.

Egypt decided on Saturday to open the Rafah crossing to receive wounded Palestinians following Israeli air strikes across the Palestinian enclave.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has given directives to receive the wounded Palestinians via Rafah and provide necessary medical treatment for them in Egyptian hospitals, MENA reported.

But Hamas called on Egypt to open its border with Gaza forever and for all residents, not only for the wounded.

"We reject this odd stance: opening the crossing for the amputated bodies and keeping it closed before 1.5 million of human beings in Gaza," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said on Sunday.

At a press conference in Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit accused Hamas of barring hundreds of wounded from heading for Egypt through Rafah crossing point, which was rejected by Barhoum.

"If Egypt was to take a position, it should be expressed by opening Rafah crossing forever and supply Gaza with food, medicine and medical teams," Barhoum said.

In addition, chief of Lebanon's Shiite group Hezbollah Hasan Nasrallah also urged Egypt to open the Rafah crossing to allow food, water, medicine and weapons to reach Gaza, Al-Manar TV reported.

"The Egyptian people should take the streets in millions to force the regime to open the crossings," Nasrallah was quoted as saying on Sunday.

(Xinhua News Agency December 29, 2008)

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