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Enraged by kidnapping, Egyptian police block Gaza border

Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi flee from tear gas fired by riot police during clashes along Qasr Al Nil bridge, which
Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi flee from tear gas fired by riot police during clashes along Qasr Al Nil bridge, which

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian police angered by the kidnapping of seven colleagues by Islamist gunmen kept a crossing into the Gaza Strip closed again on Saturday, stranding hundreds of Palestinian travelers, witnesses said.

The protest began on Friday when police strung barbed wire across the Rafah border post and chained up the gates, local residents said, a day after the abductions.

Gunmen demanding the release of jailed Islamist militants had seized seven policemen and soldiers on a road between the Sinai towns of el-Arish and Rafah. Three of those abducted had worked at the Rafah border crossing, locals said.

"We will not open the crossing until the kidnapped soldiers are freed and the interior minister arrives to listen to our demands so that these attacks on us are not repeated," one of the protesting policemen said on Saturday.

Hardline Islamist groups in North Sinai have exploited the collapse of state authority after the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 to launch attacks across the border into Israel and on Egyptian targets.

The protesting policemen called on Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, to help free their colleagues.

Security sources said on Saturday all seven hostages remained missing, retracting their report the previous day that one policeman had been released.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, which runs the Gaza Strip, criticized the Egyptian police action and said contacts were under way to resolve the standoff.

"There are promises to follow up on the matter, but in spite of these promises the suffering is still building up. We consider the continued closure of the crossing unjustified and incomprehensible," Sami Abu Zuhri told Al Jazeera television.

(Reporting by Yousri Mohamed and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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