Egypt, Hamas Seal off Rafah Border

RAFAH – Egyptian and Hamas security forces started on Sunday, February 3, sealing off the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip amid a state of popular disappointment on both sides of the border.

"Security forces have started closing the border," an Egyptian security source told Agence France Presse (AFP). "No more Palestinians are being allowed in."

Hundreds of Egyptian security forces strung barbed wire and metal barricades across all gaps in the breached border at the divided town of Rafah.

One gate remained open to allow Palestinians and Egyptians to return home, but otherwise no pedestrians or vehicles were being allowed to cross.

On the Palestinian side, armed and helmeted Hamas security men pushed back a few dozen people at the main Salaheddin crossing.

"It is closed. Go home," one security member told the crowd.

Another said it may take two days to restore normality on the border.

"It is going smoothly and without problems or violence."

Up to half of Gaza’s 1.5 million swarmed into Egypt over the past 12 days to stock up on fuel, medicines and other supplies after militants blew large sections of the border barriers.

Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said Saturday, February 2, his group had agreed with Egypt on restoring order to the chaotic frontier.

"We have concluded an agreement between us and our brothers in Egypt to operate channels at the local level at the crossing and along the border and we will implement it tomorrow after we meet with the (Hamas-run) government."

Hamas has demanded that Rafah crossing be operated through a Palestinian-Egyptian agreement to replace a 2005 arrangement that included EU observers and Israeli surveillance cameras.

President Mahmoud Abbas has said his Ramallah-based government should operate the crossings and has refused all contact with Hamas unless it returns Gaza to his control.

Disappointed

People on both sides of the border were dismayed by the closure of the joint borders.

"I am sick, I need to see a doctor in Egypt," complained Zaki Abu Nasira, a 45-year-old from the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunes.

"There is no medicine here, we don’t have the medicine that I need here."

Palestinian families reunited by the fall of the Rafah wall regretted they would face separation again.

"This is not right, this is injustice," Jamil Toman, a 63-year-old Palestinian and Cairo resident who had been visiting relatives in Gaza, told Reuters.

Toman left the Gaza Strip before the 1967 war in which Israel occupied the territory, and has not been able to get an Israeli permit to return for the past 40 years.

Nafisa Mahmoud, an Egyptian women, was in tears as she returned to Egypt from visiting friends in Gaza.

"It’s so sad that they closed the border, we are one people and should be able to visit each other without obstacles."

(Islamonline.net – Feb 3, 2008)

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