Egypt seeks to halt Gaza border flow

International Herald Tribune
Egypt seeks to halt Gaza border flow
Friday, January 25, 2008
RAFAH, Egypt: Tensions rose at the breached border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip on Friday, as Egypt trucked in security forces and soldiers and riot police tried to block Palestinians from entering, while the Palestinians broke another part of the border barrier.

The border guards had formed a human chain along most of the length of the border at Rafah, but were sill allowing the Palestinians to leave with the goods they had purchased in Egypt. For some time, they were able to stop people who still wanted to cross from Gaza but increasing numbers got through.

Egyptian security forces announced to the crowd of Palestinians over loudspeakers that the border would close at 3 p.m. local time, although a similar announcement was made on Thursday and the border still stayed open, Reuters reported.

Egyptian officials estimated that about 120,000 Palestinian had crossed into Egypt since the border was toppled by Hamas militants on Wednesday, but other estimates have put the number much higher. Over the three days since then, Palestinians have been returning with a cornucopia of consumer goods that have been in short supply since Israel moved to close its own border with Gaza last week � everything from cigarettes to televisions, generators, washing machines, milk, cheese, sheep, goats, cows, diesel fuel and gasoline.

As the Palestinians continued to cross back on Friday, there were scuffles at the border with Egyptian police officers and with troops, who had brought out water cannons and other heavy equipment that had not been visible in the past few days. There were some reports of gunfire.

On Thursday, the second day of the breach, tens of thousands more Palestinians had flooded across the border crossing. Already by then, many more Egyptian police officers were at various ruptures in the barrier at Rafah, more of them in riot gear and some using batons with small electric charges to keep the huge, pushing crowds in some form of order.

And more members of Hamas security forces were visible on the Gaza side, maintaining calm and doing random checks for weapons possibly being smuggled in for Fatah, the rival faction Hamas forced out of Gaza in June.

But neither group tried to stop the shoppers and businessmen restocking their wares in Egypt, nor did Hamas make any visible effort to control or tax the goods coming into Gaza.

On Thursday, Hamas gunmen could be seen quietly taking delivery of hundreds of bags of cement. Israel has sharply restricted cement imports to Gaza, even for aid projects, because it says Hamas diverts the supply to build fortified tunnels and emplacements for use against any major Israeli military action.

As the crowds flooded into Egypt, exchange rates and prices rose, as did the amounts Gazans were buying, with the clear intent to resell in Gaza. So intense was the trading that even some Palestinians worried that there would be a backlash from impoverished Egyptians in Rafah.

“This is not so good for the Palestinian people,” said Ahmed Shawa, a Gaza engineer who entered Egypt on Thursday. “Prices are becoming very high while people in Egyptian Rafah don’t have bread. If I go to your country and buy everything and you don’t have bread, you’re going to hate me.”

Hamas officials said they took action to open the Egyptian border after Israel decided last week to stop nearly all shipments into Gaza, including industrial diesel fuel needed to run Gaza’s main power plant and gasoline, in an effort to push Gazan militants to stop firing rockets at Israeli towns and farms.

Under severe international criticism, Israel relented, but only temporarily. It agreed to supply a week’s worth of fuel, but limited supplies again after the border breach.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt considered his options. But Egyptian officials made it clear on Thursday that while Egypt would not hinder Palestinians seeking food and other goods, it would not accept a lawless border, open to arms traffic and unregulated travel of gunmen and political extremists.

Israel and the United States said it was Egypt’s responsibility to bring the border situation under control.

General Ahmed Abdel Hamid, the governor of northern Sinai, estimated that as many as 120,000 Palestinians were in Egypt, but he said they were not being allowed to travel beyond El Arish, which lies slightly west of Rafah. He said on Thursday that he thought the border might stay open for another “four or five days” and then be closed pending another agreement on what to do.

“You have to see where this problem came from,” he said. “Before the dispute between Hamas and Fatah, the border was open every day with no problem. Since the dispute, the border has been closed.”

In fact, before the fighting between the Palestinian factions over the summer the Rafah crossing was closed more often than it was open. But Abdel Hamid emphasized that Egypt was not favoring one faction or another, saying, “Egypt is with the legitimate authority,” presumably the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.

Mubarak’s officials said Egypt would not accept responsibility for supplying Gaza and let Israel off the hook, as some Israeli officials hope.

“This is a wrong assumption,” said Hossam Zaki, the spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry. “The current situation is only an exception and for temporary reasons. The border will go back to normal.”

But the definition of normal was left unclear. When Israel pulled its settlers and troops out of Gaza in 2005, the Rafah crossing was opened with great fanfare to allow people in and out of Gaza. European Union supervisors were put in place, and Israeli video cameras monitored the traffic. But for security reasons, the crossing was often closed, and it has been shut completely since Hamas took over Gaza.

It will be difficult politically now for Mubarak to reseal the border completely, shutting off any outlet for Gaza. Egypt, with a strong opposition element from the Muslim Brotherhood, does not want to offend its Palestinian wing, Hamas. But Mubarak would prefer to work out an arrangement with the legal authority, President Abbas. In addition, Mubarak has promised Israel that Egypt will coordinate its actions on the Gaza border to preserve security interests of both countries.

In a speech on Thursday, Mubarak said that “peace efforts cannot endure any other failure, and Egypt will not allow the starving of Palestinians in Gaza or that the situation in the strip turns into a humanitarian crisis.”

He called on Palestinian factions to work together and said, “No one can outbid Egypt in its support for this silent nation and their just cause.”

Egypt, he said, “is doing its utmost in its movements and contacts to end their suffering and to lift the Israeli measures of collective punishment and to bring back the supply of fuel and electricity and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.”

Advertisements

One Response to “Egypt seeks to halt Gaza border flow”

  1. Alex Says:

    What do you think of this samsonblinded.org/blog/israel-cannot-blockade-gaza.htm ? Shoher is arguably the most right Israeli today, but he argues Israel should talk to Hamas as Egypt will not maintain the blockade of Gaza.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: