Thousands of Palestinians from Gaza crossed into Egypt after militants used explosives to blast holes in the border wall. Gaza has been enduring a week-long Israeli-imposed blockade. (Report: O. Fairclough)
Tens of thousands of Palestinians from the blockaded Gaza Strip poured into Egypt on Wednesday after the 14km wall separating the two territories was breeched with explosives and bulldozers.
“It’s an exodus,” says Ygal Saadoun, FRANCE 24’s special correspondent in Rafah. “It is impressive to see flocks of people crisscrossing the border between Gaza and Egypt following the Israeli blockade”.
“They come into Egypt to purchase things they are lacking at home, in particular fuel and medication,” adds Ygal Saadoun, explaining the huge flow he can observe on the Egyptian side of the border.
“A vast majority of the Palestinians who cross the border merely want to reach El-Arish, the city closest to the border in the Sinai desert,” points out FRANCE 24’s correspondent.
The frontier breech occurred one day after Hamas staged a rally in front of the border-crossing in the city of Rafah – in the south of the Gaza Strip – to protest against the blockade imposed since January 17 by Israel in response to the rockets fired by Palestinians against its territory. The blockade caused power cuts and interrupted the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza while also heightening tensions at the Egyptian border.
“Tension was already high at the border with Egypt, as Hamas constantly urged the Egyptian government to reopen the Rafah border-crossing, staging several rallies to that purpose. Indeed the last one took place yesterday,” explains Marc de Chalvron, FRANCE 24 correspondent in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. “This is all but surprising,” he adds.
According to a group of Rafah inhabitants, armed men wearing hoods were responsible for breeching the wall in several points. “Members of Hamas were among them,” they told the AFP, in a statement denied by the Palestinian militant movement.
Palestinians head into Egypt on foot, by car or even on donkeys in order to purchase mainly fuel and every-day goods, before making their way back into Gaza.
“I bought all I’ll need in the house for several months. I bought food, cigarettes and two gallons of diesel for my car,” one inhabitant of Gaza told the AFP.
“Egyptian anti-riot police deployed along the border did not intervene, allowing the Palestinians from Gaza to enter the country unhindered,” explains Marc Chalvron.
Meanwhile, according to a security source, Egyptian security forces arrested over 500 people during a rally in Cairo in support of Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip.
Facing mounting international pressure, Israel lightened its blockade on Tuesday, allowing fuel to reach the territory’s main power station.
Shut definitively on January 17, the Rafah border-crossing had been almost constantly barred since Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2006. Yet the crossing had become the Gaza Strip’s only doorway to the outer world since the Israeli withdrawal in 2005.
Date created : 2008-01-23