Crowds defy Gaza border deadline

Palestinians have scrambled into Egypt from Gaza's border after a midnight deadline passed for the Palestinian and Egyptian security forces to close the frontier.

    Palestinians have been crossing freely to Egypt since Monday

    More than 40 Palestinians pushed their way inside Egypt north of the Gaza border town of Rafah on Wednesday morning, defying a small pack of Egyptian soldiers.
      
    The traffic marked the start of the third day that Palestinians have travelled freely into Egypt, after Israel withdrawal from the Gaza Strip pre-dawn on Monday.
      

    A senior Egyptian border official told Aljazeera.net that the enthusiastic crowds were allowed to cross over for the first couple of days for "humanitarian reasons" and "to celebrate", but that the newly deployed Egyptian troops would be manning the border more strictly starting 6pm tonight.

    Crowds have jumped barriers and knocked down towering cement walls, defying the authorities to stop them as they turned the once-heavily controlled Rafah border into an open road for anyone to cross.
      
    Midnight deadline

    On Tuesday, the Palestinian security commander for southern Gaza announced his men would seal the Rafah border with Egypt from midnight.

    Palestinians pour into Egypt
    through a hole in the fence

    Four national security battalions, about 1200 men, will be deployed along a "hermetically sealed" border to prevent any infiltrations, Colonel Jamal Kayed, commander of national security in southern Gaza, said.

    Israel, which withdrew from patrolling the Rafah border on condition that Palestinian and Egyptian forces manned it, has raised alarm and urged Cairo to swiftly restore order.

    The troubled town was divided into two parts by a fence - and later an iron wall - under the 1982 peace treaty between and Egypt and Israel, which returned the occupied Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. 

    Thousands of Palestinian families were separated as a result.

     

    First glimpse

     

    The Israeli withdrawal has given them the brief opportunity to reunite, many for the first time in 23 years, as they clambered over and through the barriers.

     

    Many curious Egyptians living on the Egyptian side of Rafah also crossed over to get their first glimpses of the Gaza Strip.

     

    Beaches in the Gaza Strip are
    now open to Palestinians

    For most of the past five years, Palestinians between the ages of 16 and 35 were not allowed out of the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces.

     

    The Rafah crossing, which Israeli forces vacated last week but still control, was shut down last week, leaving 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza stranded.

     

    Located in the southern part of the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt, Rafah has been one of the hardest hit areas in Gaza recent years.

     

    Israeli forces pounded the impoverished refugee camp in two major security operations, leaving dozens of Palestinians dead and more than 16,000 homeless.

     

    Laila El-Haddad contributed to this report.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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