Angry Gazans storm Rafah border crossing

Egyptian authorities partially reopen terminal to pedestrians, after unexpectedly closing it for "maintenance".

    Palestinians take part in protest, as Israel heightened security this weekend in preparation for Naksa day [Reuters]

    Egyptian officials at the border with the Gaza Strip have restricted Palestinian use of the Rafah crossing, the enclave's gateway to Egypt, Hamas police say.

    A security source in Egypt initially said the crossing was closed for works which should have been completed on Friday and efforts were under way to allow through Palestinian buses.

    Egyptian security and state television said later on Saturday the crossing had reopened, but only for pedestrians, as the works prevented the passage of vehicles.

    But Palestinian officials said the movement was one-way only and hundreds of would-be travellers out of the coastal strip had been turned back and told to move away from the frontier fence.

    Earlier in the day, angry Palestinians stormed the Rafah terminal after Egypt shut the border crossing for the first time since opening it on a daily basis last month, Hamas officials and witnesses said.

    Waiting for hours

    Palestinian border officials said three buses filled with 180 passengers had waited several hours to cross the border at Rafah, and some of those waiting responded by forcing the gate open.

    "We have not been notified of any reason for the closure, passengers are angry," one of the officials told Reuters news agency.

    Hamas police escorted the protesters back across the border a short time later, after Egyptian soldiers ordered them to leave. There were no reports of any violence or arrests.

    The incident came as Palestinians were said to be planning marches to the Israeli borders from neighbouring Arab countries to mark a June 5 anniversary of Israel's capture of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, known in Arabic as the Naksa, or "setback".

    An Egyptian security source said the terminal at Rafah, Gaza's only gateway not controlled by Israel, had been shut for maintenance and may reopen by Sunday.

    Officials in Gaza said they had not been notified beforehand.

    Tensions building

    Egypt had reopened the crossing on a routine basis on May 28, a step that eased conditions for the coastal territory blockaded by Israel, which says it needs to ensure Hamas does not smuggle in weapons.

    But tensions over conditions at the Rafah terminal have been building since Hamas accused Egypt this week of placing limits on the number of people allowed through.

    Hamas border officials said Egypt had set a maximum of 350 Gaza residents to be granted entry each day, though a senior Egyptian security official denied any quota had been imposed.

    Al Jazeera's Nicole Johnston, reporting from Gaza, said: "There are certainly Hamas-Egypt problems with the opening of the crossing. Dozens of people have been turned back on the Egyptian side."

    Egypt, whose current interim military rulers seem keen to improve ties with the Palestinians, was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, in a treaty signed in 1979.

    Israel has tightened a blockade of Gaza since Hamas, a group that refuses to recognise the Jewish state, seized control of the territory in 2007.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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