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Egyptian Troops Clash with Palestinians on Gaza Border

  • Robert Berger

An Egyptian soldier (top R) takes position in the Egyptian side of Rafah as Palestinian demonstrators stand on their side of the divided border town during clashes, 06 Jan 2010

An Egyptian soldier (top R) takes position in the Egyptian side of Rafah as Palestinian demonstrators stand on their side of the divided border town during clashes, 06 Jan 2010

An Egyptian soldier has been killed and 12 Palestinians wounded in a clash on the border of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

A gun battle erupted on the Gaza border, as Egyptian troops clashed with Palestinian stone throwers and gunmen from the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas. The clash occurred as hundreds of Palestinians protested against an underground wall Egypt is building to stop weapons smuggling into Gaza.

Hamas official Salah Bardawil expressed regret over the killing of an Egyptian soldier, apparently by a Palestinian sniper.

Bardawil said Hamas had called for peaceful protests against the wall and did not want violence.

The protests came after Egypt stepped up construction of the wall this week.

Jackhammers pounded large steel beams side by side into the sandy soil, creating a barrier to a network of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza border.

Before Israel's three-week invasion of Gaza a year ago, there were about 3,000 tunnels used to smuggle weapons, gasoline, food and other goods, bypassing a tight Israeli blockade. Though most of the tunnels were destroyed in Israeli air strikes, nearly 400 are still operational and provide a lifeline to Gaza.

But since the Gaza War, Egypt has been under mounting pressure from the United States and Israel to cut off weapons smuggling to Hamas. And Egypt has interests of its own: It fears that the Islamic militancy in Gaza could spread across the border and destabilize the country.

Hamas accuses Egypt of collaborating with Israel to strangle Gaza with a crippling blockade.

In a fiery speech, Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said the wall would not force the Palestinian people to retreat or surrender.

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