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|Jan 23, 2008 1:04 pm||So much for Bush's push for a treaty between Israelis and Palestinians||#|
|Palestinians Topple Gaza Wall and Cross to Egypt|
Hatem Moussa/Associated Press
By STEVEN ERLANGER and GRAHAM BOWLEY
Published: January 23, 2008
RAFAH, Egypt — Thousands of Palestinians streamed over the Rafah border crossing from the Gaza Strip into Egypt on Wednesday, after a border fence was toppled, and went on a spree of buying fuel and other supplies that have been cut off from their territory by Israel.
Palestinians cross the Rafah border into Egypt over a toppled barrier.
They used donkeys, carts and motorcycles to cross the border, and streamed back over the fallen fence laden with goods they had been unable to buy in Gaza. The scene at the border was one of a great bazaar. The streets were packed, and people were bringing into Gaza everything from soap and cigarettes to goats, chickens, medicine, mattresses and car paint.
Israel ordered the closing of its border crossings into Gaza last week, halting all shipments except for emergency supplies, after a sustained and intense barrage of rocket fire into Israel by militant groups in the Gaza Strip, which is run by Hamas. No goods have been allowed into Gaza since, and Gaza shut down its only power station on Sunday after it ran out of the industrial diesel fuel it needed.
Initial reports suggested that Hamas militants had used explosives to blow a hole in the corrugated-iron border fence at Rafah. The Rafah crossing into Egypt has been shut since Hamas took over Gaza in a short war with Fatah last summer.
Witnesses reported hearing explosions early Wednesday morning, and said that Hamas then sent bulldozers to push the fence over. Later television footage showed that the fence had been toppled in several sections.
People began pouring over the fence before dawn, said one witness, Fatan Hessin, 45. She had crossed into Egypt to be reunited with a childhood friend from whom she had been separated by the border. “I am a Palestinian. I am not Hamas or Fatah, but I thank Hamas for this,” she said.
Gaza’s population of 1.5 million depends on imports for most basic supplies. After the border wall fell, merchants from Cairo brought in goods to sell, such as computers.
Bags of cement were in particular demand, since building materials have been in short supply following the Israeli restrictions. Israel suspects Hamas of using cement to build tunnels.
Muhammed Mowab, 22, a student and barber, said he brought in 25 bags of cement. He said he was going to build a home so that he could get married. He had been waiting for a year to get married, he said, and had paid the equivalent of $5 per bag, compared with $75 a bag of cement in Gaza.
Gas stations on the Egyptian side of the border were besieged, according to the BBC.
There were few signs of police officers directing the crowds, and Egyptian border guards stood aside to let the Palestinians cross. Riot police waited a few streets away.
The Rafah crossing has been a point of controversy between Egypt and Israel. Hamas and Egypt have opened the crossing briefly on a few occasions, most recently to permit about 2,000 Palestinians to make the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.
But Israeli officials contend that Hamas exploits such occasions to bring weapons and money into Gaza from Egypt.
Arye Mekel, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said of the latest breach on Wednesday: “The danger is that Hamas and other terror organizations will take advantage of the situation to smuggle in weapons and men and make a bad situation in Gaza worse.”
He added: “I think Hamas has been planning this for a long time. Maybe they thought this would be an opportune time,” and that the international community would understand, because of Israel’s closure of its borders with Gaza.
Aid officials had warned earlier this week that Gaza, which is now gripped by fuel and electricity shortages, was two or three days from a health and food crisis.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides assistance to Palestinian refugees and their descendants, announced Monday that it would have to suspend its food aid to 860,000 Gaza residents by Wednesday or Thursday if the crossings from Israel into Gaza were not reopened, because the group was running out of the nylon bags it uses to measure and distribute staples, like flour.
Ms. Hessin, who had used the breach of the border to meet up with her friend, Inshira Hanbal, on the Egyptian side of the border, said: “We are extremely tired of this life. The closure, the unemployment, the poverty. No one is working in my household.”
Does Bush even know how dire the situation has been? He'll probably interpret this as all about shopping.
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