RAFAH, Gaza Strip – A crush of 5,000 Palestinians trying to get through the newly opened Rafah border crossing from the Gaza Strip into Egypt on Thursday left an elderly man dead and seven people injured, Palestinian medics said.
The Palestinians came to the crossing, which is rarely open, in the morning hoping to cross into Egypt. The crowd quickly became chaotic, witnesses said, and an elderly man on his way to a medical checkup in Egypt died. It was not immediately clear if he was trampled.
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Abdel Hadi Salama, who was traveling to Egypt to visit relatives, said Palestinian security personnel rapidly lost control of the crowd, which began pushing toward the terminal and throwing stones at the entrance gate.
Security officers fired in the air, he said. Medics said two of the wounded were hit by gunfire.
"It's like the end of the world," Salama said, speaking by cell phone from inside the crossing terminal.
Jose Vericat, a spokesman for the European Union observers in charge of the crossing, said officials temporarily closed the terminal after the crush. "It was impossible for the Palestinian security personnel to keep control," Vericat said.
According to the EU observers, the Rafah crossing has only been open less than a fifth of the time since June 2006, when Palestinian militants captured an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid that provoked an Israeli offensive in Gaza. The fact that the crossing is usually closed leads to massive crowds on the rare occasions it opens.
Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005. The Rafah crossing is essentially the only way out of the crowded coastal strip for its 1.4 million residents.
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