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Sat 27 Dec 2008 05:47 PM

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Egypt opens border to help Palestinians

President condemns air strikes, Arab League calls for urgent meeting on Sunday.

Egypt on Saturday condemned a wave of Israeli air raids on the Gaza Strip that killed at least 155 Palestinians, and said it would open its Rafah border crossing with the besieged territory.

"Egypt condemns the Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip and blames Israel, as an occupying force, for the victims and the wounded," President Hosni Mubarak said in a statement.

He gave instructions for the Rafah terminal - the only one that bypasses Israel - to be opened for wounded Palestinians to be evacuated "so they can receive the necessary treatment in Egyptian hospitals."

Abdel Fadil Shusha, governor of North Sinai province which adjoins Gaza, said he has sent six ambulances to the Rafah crossing point.

Amr Mussa, secretary general of the Cairo-based Arab League, called for an emergency meeting on Sunday of foreign ministers of Arab countries "to discuss the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip."

He also asked Libya, as a member of the United National Security Council, to organise an emergency meeting of the council on the subject of the Israeli raids.

Egypt has reinforced security on its frontier with Gaza by deploying 500 anti-riot police along the border in the wake of the raids, a security services official told AFP.

On Friday, Egypt had already stepped up security at the border in case people living in Gaza broke through the boundary fence and entered Egypt in their thousands, as happened in January when activists opened breaches with explosives.

Egypt last year mediated a six-months truce between Israel and the Islamic Hamas movement which controls the Gaza strip.

Since the truce expired on December 19, Egypt has been trying to broker its renewal and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni visited Cairo for talks on Thursday.

While in Egypt, Livni vowed to strike back at Hamas as a sharp escalation of violence in Gaza dashed hopes of a new truce.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said on Thursday that the government was preparing to invite Hamas and its secular rival Fatah, which rules the West Bank, to Cairo to resume dialogue.

He called on Israel and Hamas to support the initiative by showing restraint, Gheit said.

Hamas boycotted reconciliation talks that were due to take place in Cairo in November, to protest the "political detentions" of some of its members in the West Bank by Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

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