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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 January 2006, 16:13 GMT
Gaza militant free after protest
Palestinians burst through the border with Egypt
Palestinians stormed a border crossing on Wednesday
Palestinian authorities have freed a Gaza militant leader whose arrest sparked armed protests that led to two Egyptian soldiers being killed.

Ala al-Hams was held on suspicion of kidnapping three Britons last week.

"We have reached an agreement with the security services to cease all the protests," said al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades to which Mr Hams belongs.

The protests at Rafah resulted in part of a concrete barrier between Gaza and Egypt being torn down by Palestinians.

Palestinian authorities have not said why they released Mr al-Hams.

Egyptian arrests

Protesters and others poured through holes in Gaza's border fence with Egypt that were created by militants on commandeered bulldozers.

Egyptian police fired into the air but could not stop between 300 and 1,000 people surging through the breach.

Members of al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade earlier opened fire and blocked the Rafah border crossing after Mr Hams' arrest on Tuesday.

Map of the Gaza Strip

Egypt said it "strongly condemned" the actions of an "irresponsible group of Palestinians" at the crossing, the country's foreign ministry said in a statement.

More than 60 Palestinians were arrested by Egyptian authorities and charged with illegal entry. Bu the authorities have not made it clear whether those arrested were linked to Wednesday's violence.

Mr Hams is suspected of abducting UK aid worker Kate Burton and her parents and holding them captive for three days.

A previously unknown group, the Brigades of the Mujahideen-Jerusalem, had claimed the Britons' kidnapping, saying it was in retaliation for Israel's declaration of a northern Gaza "no-go zone" to prevent rocket attacks.




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