Palestinian police have restored order along the Gaza Strip's chaotic border with Egypt, but not before large quantities of weapons were smuggled in to Palestinian militants, officials say.
Palestinian security forces sealed off the Gaza border, halting a chaotic flow of thousands of people into and out of Egypt. Palestinians tore down the border fence after Israel pulled out of Gaza a week ago. Five major breaches in the fence were closed, and 2,000 police have been deployed to keep order.
"The number of people crossing the border has been reduced to almost zero," Palestinian official Soufian Abu Zaideh told Israel Radio. "The chaotic situation is over."
Israel welcomed the sealing of the border, but said the damage has already been done. According to both Israeli and Palestinian officials, hundreds of assault rifles and thousands of bullets have been smuggled from Egypt to Palestinian militants in Gaza. Israel believes the weapons may include shoulder-fired missiles that could threaten military and civilian aircraft.
With so many weapons in the hands of Islamic militants who have vowed to continue the jihad, or holy war, against Israel, Israeli officials are wondering whether the Palestinian Authority can establish a peaceful regime.
"We have to see in Gaza rule of law," said Government spokesman Mark Regev. "We have to see in Gaza the dismantling of the different terrorist organizations. We have to see the Palestinians step up to the plate, and show that they can create the foundations of what will be, in the long-term, a democratic Palestinian state."
With the first signs of stability, Israel and the Palestinian Authority hope to build on the momentum of the Gaza pullout. There is talk of a summit between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in two weeks, to discuss advancing the internationally-backed "Roadmap" peace plan.