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Border closing, Palestinians go home

Latest update : 2008-02-03

The joint Egyptian and Palestinian effort to close the Gaza-Rafah crossing got under way Saturday. Hamas has offered to cooperate but there is no formal agreement on who will have central control.

RAFAH, Gaza Strip, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Egyptian forces began
closing the border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday, stemming the
flow of Palestinians across a frontier blown open 11 days ago by
Hamas Islamists in defiance of an Israeli-led blockade.


"It is closed. Go home," a Hamas militant told Palestinians
at the Rafah crossing as many in the crowd began to leave the
area.


Egyptian forces used barbed wire and metal barricades to
seal the only remaining gap on the Egyptian side of the
frontier. Egyptian security sources said hundreds of Egyptian
security men were deployed along the border.


Hamas, which violently took over the Gaza Strip in June, has
been under pressure from Egypt to stop the flow of hundreds of
thousands of Palestinians who have crossed over since members of
the group blew open the border on Jan. 23.


Gazans flocked to the Egyptian side of the border town of
Rafah to stock up on goods in short supply in the Gaza Strip
after Israel tightened border restrictions in a declared bid to
pressure Palestinian militants to halt rocket attacks.


"We will try to exert our control completely at the border.
There are hundreds of Palestinians still on Egyptian territory,
and they will be returned in the coming hours," said an Egyptian
security source.


Rafah crossing, once controlled by the Palestinian Authority
and overseen by European monitors, has been largely closed by
Israel since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in fighting
against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group.


After talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo on Saturday
Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar said the group "will restore
control over this border, in cooperation with Egypt, and
gradually".


An Egyptian officer at the crossing told scores of people
who gathered there on Sunday that Gazans on the Egyptian side of
the frontier and Egyptians visiting the Gaza Strip would be
allowed to return home.


"The season is over. We came to buy cigarettes and resell
them, but we were surprised when the gates were closed in our
faces," said Mohammed al-Masri, a Gaza resident.


"It is going smoothly and without problems or violence,"
said a Hamas member at the scene. "It may take 48 hours for the
border to get back to normal."


Hamas has demanded a central role in controlling the border
with Egypt. Talks in Cairo on Saturday between Khaled Meshaal, a
Hamas leader who lives in exile, and Egyptian officials ended
without a formal agreement on frontier arrangements.

Date created : 2008-02-03

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