After a four-year blockade, Egypt today permanently opened the Gaza Strip's main gateway to the outside world, bringing long-awaited relief to the territory's Palestinian population and a significant achievement for the area's ruling Hamas militant group. The reopening of the Rafah border crossing eases an Egyptian blockade that has prevented the vast majority of Gaza's 1.5 million people from being able to travel abroad. The closure, along with an Israeli blockade of its borders with Gaza, has fueled an economic crisis in the densely populated territory. Egypt announced the decision Wednesday.
But today's move also raises Israeli fears that militants will be able to move freely in and out of Gaza. Highlighting those fears, the Israeli army said militants from inside Gaza fired a mortar shell into an open field in southern Israel overnight. There were no injuries, and Israel did not respond. Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007. Since the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February, Egypt's new leadership has vowed to ease the blockade and improve relations with Hamas. Click here for background on the border. (Read more Egypt stories.)