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Rafah border crossing braces for further strikes

Video by Ygal SAADOUN

Latest update : 2008-12-29

Tension are mounting at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip as the locals brace for more Israeli raids targeting the underground tunnels thought to be used to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

AFP - Egyptian police fired in the air near the Gaza border town of Rafah on Sunday to prevent Palestinians entering Egypt after Israel launched air strikes to destroy tunnels along the tense frontier.
   
One policeman was killed and another wounded by shots from across the border, a security offical and medics said, but it was not immediately clear who fired them.
   
"Dozens of civilians tried to break through the Barahma crossing after Israel launched air strikes along the Gaza-Egypt border. They were repelled by Egyptian police firing in the air," the official said.
   
Some Palestinians managed to climb over the border wall into Egypt, with riot police reinforcements being sent to the frontier on the second day of Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 280 people.
   
A security services official said Egypt had then shut the Rafah crossing and police were searching for the Palestinians who had managed to enter Egyptian territory.
   
Tensions at the border, Gaza's only one not with Israel, had risen during the day, with Egypt blaming Hamas for not letting wounded Palestinians through and Hamas asking for medical aid to be handed over.
   
In the evening, an Egyptian security official revealed that two policemen had been hit by gunfire from the Gaza side.
   
"A border officer died in hospital in El-Arish after being shot twice in the chest," a medic said.
   
The security official said that a second officer had been wounded adding that the source of the fire on the main Saleheddin crossing had not been established.
   
Israeli warplanes earlier bombed a series of contraband tunnels on the border, scattering Egyptians waiting to help wounded Palestinians.
   
The tunnels that criss-cross the border are used to smuggle goods and weapons into the territory that has been virtually cut off from the outside world since Hamas seized power in June last year.
   
"The air force attacked over 40 tunnels on the Gaza side of the border," an Israeli army spokeswoman said.
   
Some of the blasts hit very close to an Egyptian military camp on the border, an AFP correspondent said.
   
Immediately afterwards, a Palestinian man with head wounds walked across the border and was taken away by one of the dozens of Egyptian ambulances waiting to treat the wounded since Saturday.
   
The Israeli warplanes struck as medical aid was about to be taken across into the Gaza Strip, sending people scattering.
   
Shortly after the raids, empty Palestinian ambulances arrived at the border and Palestinians began throwing what medical aid they could inside, before driving back into the Gaza Strip.
   
More than 280 Palestinians have been killed and 600 wounded since Israel began hammering the Gaza Strip with air strikes on Saturday, but few wounded have left via Rafah.
   
Hamas said it was drawing up lists of the wounded but it was proving difficult to transport them to the border because of the seriousness of their injuries and continuing Israeli air strikes.
   
"We have 25 in very critical condition. Because of the distance there are fears that many will die on their way to Cairo," a Gaza health ministry official at the border, Alaa el-Din Mohammed el-Batta, told AFP.
   
"We tried transporting them during the raids and tens died on the way from their wounds. The air strikes also complicate things," he said.
   
An Egyptian medic said that "sometimes they (Hamas) say they're going to bring people, sometimes they say they're not going to bring people. Now they say they want medical supplies for the wounded."
   
Gaza has been crippled by an Israeli blockade of all but the most essential supplies, with even basic medicines lacking in the impoverished territory.
   
A security official said that an Egyptian plane with 50 doctors on board as well as medical supplies had arrived in nearby El-Arish. Two Qatari aircraft carrying 50 tonnes of medical supplies were waiting at the same airport.
   
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has also ordered three planeloads of medical aid to the Gaza Strip via Egypt, Egypt's official MENA news agency said.

Date created : 2008-12-29

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