CAIRO: An estimated 60,000 Palestinians stormed into Egypt Wednesday after 15 explosions blew holes in the metal border wall, paving the way for blockaded Gazans to flood into Rafah seeking basic supplies.
Other parts of the barrier on the Egypt-Gaza border were knocked down by a bulldozer.
Palestinians in Rafah embarked on a shopping spree, purchasing goods that have not been available in Gaza since Israel decided to close off all crossing points last Thursday. Shops opened early to cater to the new arrivals.
The 2,000 Egyptian security officers at the borders did not intervene with the influx as they waited for orders on how to respond. According to the MENA news agency, a full alert was ordered in the area.
President Hosni Mubarak told reporters in Cairo that he had authorized the crossing of the Palestinians so long as they were not carrying arms.
“I told [security forces] to allow them to buy their basic needs and go back to Gaza as long as they are not carrying arms or anything illegal, he said.North Sinai Tagammu party member Ashraf El Henfy told Daily News Egypt that the Rafah crossing had been opened and that movement is flowing along the border. After Mubarak’s statement, he added, the Palestinians were not being prohibited in any way because Egypt saw they could not be stopped.
“This might alleviate the situation somewhat in Gaza, El Hefny explained, “They [the Palestinians] are buying basic goods and we welcome them. This is how things should normally be.
Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since June, released a statement saying that the events that took place on the Egyptian border at dawn were a result of Gaza’s total isolation from both sides: Egypt and Israel.
“The situation went out of control because of the strangulation caused by the blockade that has been imposed for nearly eight months on 1.5 million Palestinians, the statement read. “The population is confronted with a humanitarian crisis and wants to breathe.
The recent blockade – which was partially lifted on Tuesday – left Gaza bereft of basic commodities; literally in the dark, as there was no fuel for its sole power plant.
Head of the Cairo Liason office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Rula Khalafawi told Daily News Egypt that what happened was the inevitable result of the dire conditions in Gaza.
“They don’t want to come to Egypt for anything but to shop, she said. “This is what they need, they don’t need anything else. And this is what they want, they say open the borders, we want to live, we want to feed our children.
Khalafawi said Israel’s partially lifting the blockade on Tuesday by allowing fuel supplies into Gaza would not make much of a difference.
“The fuel and commodities [allowed in] would only last two, three days maximum and then negotiations were still ongoing for further shipments. We [the UNRWA] have further shipments ready and waiting at Kerem Shalom [crossing] which have not been allowed in.
Khalafawi also hoped that this new freedom of movement, no matter how temporary, would extend to Palestinians in Cairo who are not allowed to enter North Sinai.
“The problem is that the situation in Cairo is different, she said. “We have staff in Cairo who can’t return to Gaza because they are sent back at Al-Arish.
Israel expressed deep concern about Wednesday’s events. Speaking to AFP, foreign ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said, “We are worried, as these breaches not only permit Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip, but also permit Hamas to easily infiltrate arms and terrorists from Egypt.
Palestinians, however, laid the blame squarely at Israel’s feet. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeina, told AFP that “Israel is responsible for what has happened – this is the consequence of the blockade imposed on Gaza.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called for new border arrangements in a televised broadcast Wednesday, requesting urgent meetings with Fatah officials and Egypt to come up with a new agreement that would reopen the border crossings “on the basis of national participation.
“We don’t want to be the only ones in control of these matters, he said in his speech, alluding to a willingness to share political control with rivals Fatah, whom Hamas routed last June to take control of Gaza.
However, Fatah officials did not respond positively to Haniyeh’s offer, claiming it was a distraction to avoid Fatah demands that Hamas cede Gaza back to them