sexta-feira, 25 de janeiro de 2008
Egyptian troops unable to push back Palestinians
Egyptian soldiers in riot gear using water cannon and rolls of barbed wire were unable to stop hundreds of Palestinians from rushing into Egypt today after a bulldozer tore down another section of the border fence.
Although Egyptian forces closed some gaps in the wall, several thousand people were able to cross in both directions. At least one crane was set up on the seven-mile border at Rafah to bring in goods more quickly, particularly bags of cement and barrels of fuel, which are still scarce in Gaza.
There were some tense moments as crowds pushed against the soldiers and occasionally threw stones. The Egyptians used water cannon briefly and there was some firing into the air.
For every gap that was closed, there were many more that remained open. The steel and concrete wall on the Palestinian side remains demolished for large parts of its length.
Although Egypt has been willing to let Palestinians into the Sinai over the past two days, it appears that Cairo hopes to reseal the border and re-establish a formal crossing point. Already Egyptian officials have prevented the Palestinians from travelling from the Sinai into the rest of Egypt or out through Cairo airport.
Most of the Palestinians went to shop for basic necessities, as the economic blockade has been increasingly tightened on Gaza over the past two years. Israel, which has not had troops on this border for two years, has announced a security alert for its citizens travelling in Sinai and said that it fears militants may have crossed into Egypt, with the intention of kidnapping Israeli holidaymakers.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that won elections two years ago and seized full control of Gaza last summer, has won considerable public support for demolishing the wall before dawn on Wednesday. Yesterday Hamas officials said they wanted a crossing at Rafah to remain open. For much of the past two years, the official Rafah crossing has been closed.
"We insist and urge our Egyptian brothers that there must be a mechanism to allow the passage of people and goods through the Rafah crossing in a legal and organised manner," said Taher al-Nunu, a Hamas spokesman.
Armed Hamas men were also at the border trying to control the crowd. Senior Israeli officials had suggested Egypt might, in future, take more responsibility for supplying fuel and food to Gaza, allowing Israel to "disconnect" from the 1.5 million Palestinians living there.
But Egypt shows no sign of accepting such a role, even though there is pressure in the Arab world on Egypt to ease the plight of the Gazans.
"They should get things back to normal according to previous agreements and understandings," the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, told an Egyptian newspaper.
The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, a rival of the Hamas movement, are due to meet on Sunday for their latest peace process talks. Gaza will be at the top of their agenda.
Israel, which last year labelled Gaza a "hostile entity", tightened its closure of the Gaza crossings a week ago to try to prevent Palestinian militants firing rockets into southern Israel.
However, it has since been forced to allow in some limited supplies of fuel and aid after widespread international criticism over the humanitarian crisis.
Yet the violence continued. Four Hamas militants were killed overnight in two separate Israeli air strikes in Rafah, southern Gaza. In East Jerusalem, an Israeli border police officer was killed in a drive-by shooting late yesterday. At around the same time, three Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank were injured in a knife attack. The two Palestinian attackers were shot dead.