Violence erupts at Gaza border

Palestinians hurl stones at Egyptian guards as Cairo says border will be closed.

    The Egyptian government wants to make it clear that the crossing will soon be closed [AFP]
    Egyptian officials early warned the freedom granted to Gaza's residents to visit relatives and to shop was to end.
     
    Human wall
     
    Al Jazeera's Amr El-Kahky, reporting from the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, said that security guards had formed a human wall in what was seen as preparation to begin blocking Palestinians from entering Egypt.

    He  said: "There is no real attempt to stop people going back and forth, but the guards are preparing to seal this border, as some sort of signal to the Palestinians that they need to start heading back into Gaza."

    "Security forces also aim to seal two of the three crossings that were damaged. One will stay open, but will direct one way traffic - out of Egypt.

    "Some people are throwing stones at the guards, and tension seems to be rising ... because the prospect of the borders closing again, and the Palestinians going back into the so-called prison that is Gaza, is very frightening for them."
     
    He said: "The government took heavy criticism from the West over the border opening.

    "The United States congress has already suspended $100 million of aid to Egypt due to the border breach."



    Political row
     
    The issue has now turned into a political row between Egypt and Israel.
     
    Matan Vilnai, the Israeli deputy defence minister, said Israel gradually wants to relinquish responsibility for Gaza, now that the territory's border with Egypt has been blown open.
     
    Egypt has angrily rejected the suggestion and said it would not change border arrangements.
     
    The blasts that made holes in Gaza's border with Egypt came after the Israeli government blocked fuel and aid shipments into Gaza beginning last week.
     
    In Video

    Breaking free of the siege

    UN fails to reach agreement

    A series of Israeli air raids on Gaza over the past 10 days also claimed the lives of more than 40 people, most of them fighters.
     
    Israel says its actions are aimed at halting rockets fired into southern Israel from Gaza by Hamas fighters and denies that it is engaging in "collective punishment" against the Palestinian people.
     
    But Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister whose government is based in the West Bank and has no control over Gaza, called the situation in the Gaza Strip "absolutely disastrous".
     
    "This is a pressure cooker kind of situation and a very damaging situation - one that threatens to spiral out of control," Fayyad told delegates at the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland.
     
    Boost for Hamas
     
    The border breach has given a popularity boost to Hamas, which took control of the Gaza Strip in June last year, allowing the group to claim it broke the Israeli siege.
     
    "Hamas has won the strategic battle," said Abu Ali, a 45-year-old Gazan businessman who was on the Egyptian side to buy materials for his construction company.
     
    "Ask anyone here how they reached this place, and they will tell you it was because of Hamas."

    But Hamas officials have not said they ordered the explosions that led to the border opening.
     
    Also on Thursday, Unrwa, the UN agency aiding Palestinian refugees, urged Arab Gulf countries to provide about $9.8m in aid money to Gaza.
     
    "The [Israeli] siege has led to a significant increase in the burden on Palestinian civilians," said Peter Ford, an Unrwa representative.
     
    He said the money would buy food, medicine and other supplies for Gaza's residents.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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