CAIRO: Palestinians created new breaches in the barrier separating Egypt from Gaza Friday as Egyptian forces attempted to seal the border, Palestinian sources in the area told Daily News Egypt.
“Egyptian forces have blocked most of the openings but the Palestinians of Gaza have breached another part of the wall near the Salahulddin gate, said the local coordinator for Palestinian affairs Abdel-Sattar El-Ghalban.
Egypt set a return deadline of 3 pm yesterday for the Palestinians flooding Rafah since Tuesday to buy commodities not available in the impoverished Gaza Strip. The border breaches were to be sealed off by that time but until press time, people were still entering Egypt from Gaza.
“People are still coming in and out but from certain points of the border besides the ones where Egyptian forces are gathered and it seems the Egyptians don’t yet have orders to completely close it off, El-Ghalban told Daily News Egypt.
After announcing by loudspeaker the 3 pm deadline, security forces lined up in front of the breaches and attempted to repel the flow of Palestinians wanting to enter Rafah. Water cannons were fired above the Gazans’ heads and those who were closer were forced back by batons, news agencies reported.
“The Egyptian government faces a series of huge challenges, Nabil Abdel-Fatah from Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told Daily News Egypt. “First, there is the internal aspect of the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups exploiting public opinion which supports lifting the siege on Gaza which worsens by the day and so the government is bowing to this feeling to prevent the Brotherhood from benefiting from it. “Secondly, Abdel-Fatah continued, “there are international obligations resulting from agreements Egypt has signed with Israel under the auspices of the US in Camp David.
“Also, Egypt wants to prevent Israel and the US from exploiting international pressure to influence decision makers whether through the media or politically, especially after recent European criticism of Egypt’s human rights record, he said.
On Thursday the Egyptian military transported tanks to the border in preparation for the reseal attempt and armored vehicles arrived with coils of barbed wire to close up the ruptures.
Yet the Palestinians, who had come from all parts of Gaza to buy essential goods such as fuel, foodstuffs and cement after months of living in conditions where such supplies were unavailable, would not be so easily herded.
Talk in Rafah on Thursday was that the border would be open for a few days yet pressure from Israel and the US seems to have accelerated the process of sealing the border. Supply trucks were prevented from entering Al-Arish and Rafah despite a massive fuel shortage in the area.
“Apparently there is pressure to close the border quickly, El Ghalban said.Abdel-Fatah said, “Opening the border carries many implications, not least the movement of weapons or forged money or money made through illegal practices. There is also the possibility of Al-Qaeda entering Egypt, as they have a presence in Gaza.
“Therefore, he added, “this constitutes a threat to Egypt’s national security. The entry of any terrorist groups will affect internal stability and tourism.
An Israeli air strike on the Palestinian side of Rafah early Friday killed an alleged Hamas leader and his lieutenant. On Thursday night, two Israeli missiles were fired at the jeep of two other members of the Hamas military wing, killing them instantly.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also urged Egypt to close the border immediately telling reporters “I understand it is a difficult situation for them. But it is an international border, it needs to be protected and I believe that the Egyptians understand the importance of doing that.
Israel had instituted a five day total blockade of the Gaza strip which led to Palestinians protesting at the Egyptian border before breaking through after blowing up parts of the barrier wall.
Since the Palestinians’ entry on Tuesday, Egyptian police at checkpoints throughout the area enforced orders which prohibited any Palestinians present in Al-Arish or Rafah from leaving, as well as any Palestinians present outside that area in Cairo or Alexandria from entering.
“We hope the border remains open, El-Ghalban said, “all people want to do is buy what they need and Hamas and Fatah are cautious of Egypt’s security.
Abdel-Fatah added, “The Egyptian government currently faces many internal problems as a result of social frustration arising from the dramatic increase in prices and the middle and lower classes not benefiting from the current economic growth, which only the businessmen and higher levels of government and the bureaucrats benefit from.
“There is a possibility these prospective social demands could turn into political demands, and there is a danger that these frustrations might lead to sectarian strife, he added.
“So the situation is not as simple as some commentators see it, whether here or abroad. Additionally we must not forget how Hamas have mishandled their administration of Gaza. But the biggest scandal in all this is Palestinian interfactional conflict, which has allowed Israel to contravene international law by occupying the territories and causing the suffering of the people inside. It is an occupying power and what they are doing now in the Palestinian territories is an occupation, Abdel-Fatah said.