Palestinians force open parts of border with Egypt

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GAZA/JERUSALEM, 23 January (IRIN) -
In the early morning of 23 January Palestinian militants blew up sections of the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, effectively allowing tens of thousands of Palestinians to freely leave or enter the enclave for the first time since last June 2007.

“I’m going to al-Arish to see my married daughter. I have not seen her in four years,” said Um Muhammed, as she prepared to go through a two-metre-wide hole in the border wall. “I hope I can see her.”

Another woman, together with her five young children, also pushed to the border, as neighbors and friends helped them carry luggage. She was stranded inside the Strip when Hamas took over the enclave and the Rafah border to Egypt was closed. She told IRIN she was looking forward to seeing her husband in the United Arab Emirates.

Others went on a shopping spree. Some bought food and medicines, though others carried back junk food, cola, cigarettes and other “luxury items” Israel banned for import to the enclave six months ago. There have never been scenes like this since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

“I went to Egypt to buy diesel,” said Hathem Abu Touame, who works as a driver, noting the recent fuel crisis in Gaza due to Israeli restrictions, said to be in response to rocket attacks. “They refused to sell it to me, so I bought lots of soap and I hope to sell it in Gaza.” Soap too has been a hard-to-find commodity in Gaza.

Others, however, were luckier, and found various types of fuel, which they brought back with them, as others brought in livestock and building items like cement.

Hundreds of Palestinians who were locked out of Gaza were also returning.

Events “not planned”

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, told IRIN the events were “not planned”

“This was a normal response to the pressure that has been put on the Palestinian people in Gaza. It is an explosion of the people locked inside,” he said, calling for normally operated borders and an end to the “siege.”

Israeli security officials, quoted in the local media, expressed great concern — “a first class security threat” — that militants were bringing in weapons to augment their caches. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said Egypt was responsible for the border.

Witnesses said they saw masked men smuggling goods into Gaza, though they could not verify the nature of the items. Egyptian soldiers, few in numbers, stood near the border area, but did not interfere, in contrast to the previous day when they pushed Palestinians back into Gaza using tear gas. Hamas police and militants were also present.

A question many of the euphoric Gazans were hesitant to ask was how long the border would remain open, as it was clear both Egypt and Israel were unhappy with the situation.

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