Egypt seals gaps in breached Gaza border

Egypt sealed off its border with the Gaza strip after Hamas militants blasted it open last week to let tens of thousands of Gazans cross to Egypt. Hamas and Egypt have begun talke to resolve the crisis.


ISMAILIA, Egypt, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Egypt called in police
reinforcements and sealed gaps at the breached border with the
Gaza Strip on Thursday.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal met Egyptian officials in Cairo
for talks centred on the "facilitation of movement" and the
entry of Palestinians on the border. A senior Hamas official
said no agreement had been reached but progress had been made.

A senior Egyptian security official said Egypt had given
orders to security men to start taking more restrictive measures
and was hoping to minimise friction with Palestinians by
implementing an incremental closure of the border.

The official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity,
said there was still no official word on when the border would
be completely sealed.

Egyptian forces brought cement and sandbags to seal gaps in
the border just over a week after Hamas militants blasted it
open to let tens of thousands of Gazans cross to Egypt in
defiance of an Israeli-led blockade, witnesses said.

Egypt also started blocking Palestinian vehicles from
crossing into Egypt although it was allowing supply-laden
Egyptian trucks to enter Gaza to drop off goods, witnesses said.

One security source said around 50,000 Palestinians had
crossed into Egypt on Thursday, and another 20,000 were staying
with relatives in Rafah and nearby towns.

Egypt was silent on the talks with Meshaal, who Arab media
had said was expected to meet Egyptian intelligence chief Omar
Suleiman to discuss restoring order at the Gaza-Egypt frontier.

But senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar, speaking after
Meshaal's meeting, told al-Jazeera television that while no
agreement had been reached, some progress had been made.

"Hamas does not object to a shared administration of the
Rafah crossing with Abbas, on condition that the Palestinian
Authority does not succumb to Israeli pressure," he said,
referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas met Egypt's president on the same issue on Wednesday.


Abbas has rejected Hamas demands for control of the border
and urged the Islamist group on Wednesday to "end its coup" in
Gaza, which Hamas seized control of in June.

Abbas has already won U.S., European and Arab backing to
take control of the Rafah crossing, to the exclusion of Hamas.

But it is unclear how Abbas, the Fatah leader whose
authority is now limited to the Israeli-occupied West Bank,
would be able to exert control over Rafah given opposition from
Hamas, whose forces have command on the ground.

Hamas has signalled it could prevent Egypt from re-sealing
the border unless its own authority there was recognised.

Egypt arrested 15 Hamas militants on Thursday who had
managed to slip into its territory with weapons and explosives
despite Egyptian warnings not to cross the border with weapons,
security sources said.

They said police were looking for four more armed
Palestinians believed to have also crossed the border.

The Palestinians had bomb-making equipment including
detonators, plastic bags of explosive material, flak jackets,
bullets, grenades and guns, the security sources said.

Police allowed 15 trucks carrying aid from the Qatari Red
Crescent to enter the Gaza Strip.

In Israel, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA) received approval to deliver 12 trucks of humanitarian
aid to Gaza on Thursday.

But the trucks were turned away from the Gaza border with no
reason given, said UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness, in what
he said looked like "a deliberate policy of obstruction".

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning