- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 15, 2006

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Palestinian militants forced open a border gate between Egypt and Gaza yesterday, letting hundreds of people pour across despite warning shots from Israeli helicopter gunships.

At least 600 people — mostly students and patients trapped at the border in the weeks the Rafah crossing was closed — passed freely through the gate. Six Palestinian militants stood by, periodically firing into the air, witnesses and Palestinian security said.

Also yesterday, the United States pledged $50 million for Palestinian refugees, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urged Washington to pressure Israel to end its military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Abbas told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a telephone call that he was making every effort to end the Gaza crisis, the Palestinian leader’s office said.

The United States donated the money to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency to aid Gaza Strip and West Bank residents affected by the fighting, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said after meeting with Mr. Abbas yesterday.

Israel launched its offensive in Gaza after Palestinian militants tunneled under the border June 25 and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two soldiers and capturing a third.

The Rafah border crossing — Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world — largely has been closed since then.

Masked Palestinian militants firing guns broke into the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, clearing the way for the trapped Gazans, Egyptian police Capt. Mohammed Abdel Hadi said.

Militants from the ruling Hamas party said they opened the border gate as a “gift” to the Palestinian people.

Some people passed through the gate on crutches, even as they lugged suitcases. Others walked or ran. A few Palestinian cars were seen crossing into Egypt.

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