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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Egypt closing Gaza border

Other sources indicated that Hamas fighters had ensconced themselves in Sinai:
Overnight Saturday, Egyptian security forces caught 20 Palestinians in Sinai
in possession of explosives and electronic devices which would have enabled
them to listen in to the Egyptian forces' communications networks.
That may be the reason for the decision to close the border.
Is a Palestinian charge into Israel in the offing? Could be.
Palestinians stream back to Gaza as Egypt chokes off supplies
By News Agencies
Last update - 23:51 27/01/2008

Palestinians streamed home through the breaches in Gaza's border with Egypt on Sunday as Egyptian authorities choked off supplies to the area and moved to restore control.

Meanwhile, Ahmed Youssef, a Hamas official whose statements are not always supported by the leadership, was quoted by the Palestinian Maan news agency warning that Gazans could next try to force open the main foot crossing into Israel, the Erez Terminal, continuing a "third Intifada", or uprising, that they had begun at Rafah.

Egyptian forces moved to close their breached border with the Gaza Strip by stopping vehicle traffic Sunday and further tightening their security cordon around the small frontier town of Rafah in effort to contain Palestinians crossing freely into Egypt for the fifth day in a row.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Sunday Egypt would take steps to control its border with the Gaza Strip as soon as possible. A Foreign Ministry statement provided no further details.

A Reuters reporter on the Egyptian side of the border town of Rafah saw hundreds of Palestinians leaving Egypt and only a handful of people crossing in from the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

"We wanted to buy food. It was very difficult. We could not find anything," said 17-year-old Khalil Hamdan. "We won't come back because all the products are finished."

Hundreds of trucks were held up at a bridge that leads from mainland Egypt to the Sinai peninsula and Gaza. Merchants in the border town of Rafah said they were struggling to get supplies of food and cigarettes. Fuel was also running short.

Egyptian forces blocked one of the gaps carved into the border wall with piles of sand and border police carrying electric cattle prods at other openings stopped cars with Palestinian plates from entering Egypt and Egyptians cars from crossing into Gaza. Pedestrians, however, continued to move back and forth freely.

Egyptian border guards were now authorized to return fire if attacked, said a security official speaking on customary condition of anonymity on the Egyptian side of Rafah.

Over the past two days, 38 Egyptian security forces have been wounded - some seriously - after Palestinians hurled stones and shot at them at the border, according to Aboul Gheit.

There was little left to buy in the muddy streets of the divided border town of Rafah, however, and a chill drizzle kept people huddled under the awnings of the handful of open stores.

Gasoline vendors, however, were still filling jerry cans to be taken back to the fuel-starved Gaza Strip.

"I can afford to get wet, but I can't afford to go hungry," said Gazan Adel Abdullah Moussa, dripping wet in the rain and carrying a yellow gas can in one hand and his year-old baby in the other.

Outside Rafah, police tightened their cordon and increased their checkpoints to stop Palestinians from entering the rest of Egypt and in the nearby town of El-Arish, security forces approached Palestinians on the streets and ordered them home.

Palestinians who had managed to sneak into El-Arish said that after a four-day purchasing spree, people would now no longer sell them anything or give them a place to stay the night, apparently under orders from security.

Leaders in the region are scrabbling to decide what to do about last Wednesday's dramatic opening of the border between Egypt and Gaza and subsequent flood of Palestinians out of their besieged territory to buy food, fuel and consumer products.

Arab foreign ministers are set to meet in Cairo Sunday to discuss the matter, while it will be the centerpiece of talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as well.

Israel, meanwhile, has expressed growing concern about the possible influx of Palestinian militants into areas of Egypt that border Israel. The Israel Defense Forces announced Saturday that its troops were on heightened alert along the border with Egypt, and that an Israeli road and tourism sites in the area are temporarily closed.

Abbas will meet Wednesday in Cairo with Mubarak to discuss the crisis on the Gaza-Egypt border, an aide for the Fatah-aligned Palestinian president said Saturday.

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