RAFAH — Tired of a months-long crippling Israeli blockade, thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt on Wednesday, January 23, after gunmen blasted several holes into the border wall overnight.
"Thousands of Palestinians have crossed into Egypt through the holes created by the explosions on the border," an Egyptian security source told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"They are heading to Rafah City on foot, where they are stocking up on food, fuel and cigarettes."
Gunmen blasted parts of the border wall allowing the besieged Gazans to cross freely into Egypt.
"Palestinian gunmen created at least 15 openings in the wall between Egypt and Gaza, and a Palestinian bulldozer was demolishing large parts of it and is still working to destroy the rest of the wall," an Egyptian security source said.
Witnesses on the Palestinian side said Egyptian security forces had not yet intervened.
This came just hours after more than one thousand Gazans, mostly women, and ambulances carrying wounded people gathered near the Rafah terminal.
The situation became chaotic when some of the women tried and eventually managed to storm their way across the gate into Egypt.
After about two hours, Egyptian security forces took control of the situation and a group of 40 women and 10 young people was returned to Gaza later.
Gazans have repeatedly called on Egypt to open the terminal, their only window to the outside world, after a crippling Israeli lockdown of the impoverished coastal territory left the 1.5-million population in desperate conditions.
Tens of thousands of Gazans thronged into Egypt, some on donkey carts, carrying luggage to bring consumer goods and fuel back into Gaza.
"I have bought everything I need for the house for months," Mohammed Saeed told Reuters.
"I have bought food, cigarettes and even two gallons of diesel for my car."
Many of the Gazans found transport towards the Egyptian coastal town of El Arish, about 40 kilometers away.
Others stayed in the Egyptian side of Rafah and clamored to buy petrol, cigarettes, olive oil and other foodstuffs.
"The bakeries are not working and there are difficulties in getting the things we need," said a 42-year-old housewife who gave her name as Umm Raid.
"I came to buy milk for my children and to get medicine for diabetes."
The World Health Organization said its consignments of essential medicines and other supplies had been blocked at the border with Israel.
WHO Director General Margaret Chan complained Israel’s restrictive measures "jeopardize the continuity of basic health care and curtail access to specialist care outside Gaza."
International humanitarian organizations have warned of an impending humanitarian disaster in Gaza because of the Israeli siege.
"There is a major risk of a total collapse of all the infrastructure," said Dorothea Krimitsas, spokeswoman for the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).
"The population finds itself hostage to this conflict and is suffering the most serious consequences, with hospitals under particular strain given the lack of supplies and electricity," she said.
"Many medicines are lacking and need to be restocked, otherwise hospitals will have to close."
The UN children’s agency UNICEF also warned of grave consequences of the Israeli siege.
"We are very concerned about the situation of children in Gaza…children are always the victims in times of conflict."