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Gazans Pour Into Egypt After Border Fence Breached

Thousands of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip poured into an Egyptian border town, early Wednesday, after militants blew a large hole in the border wall overnight that separates Gaza from Egypt. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem Bureau.

A huge explosion signaled the latest development in the week-old Gaza crisis. Militants blew a large hole in the high metal wall that separates the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip from Egypt and Palestinians crossed into Egypt by the thousands.

Unlike Tuesday, when Egyptian and Hamas police fired on crowds of Palestinians attempting to break through the Rafah border crossing point, no attempt was made by Egyptian police to stop the flow of people. Hamas police could be seen guiding the crowds through the barrier. Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, says Gaza's residents have been trapped.

Barhoum says, even worse than the problem of Israel's cutoff of fuel to Gaza's main power plant last week, is the problem of the total closure of Gaza to the outside world. He says that has turned Gaza into a prison for 1.5 million Palestinians.

Shops in the Egyptian border town, Rafah, were overwhelmed by Palestinians shopping for cigarettes, fuel and other goods Israel has banned from being imported into the Gaza Strip.

Israel's foreign ministry spokesman says his country is concerned about the situation and expects Egypt to take action. Israel eased its blockade of Gaza for one day, Tuesday, allowing in fuel to power Gaza's main power plant and convoys of food, fuel and medicine to be distributed by international relief agencies. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Israel's closure of the Gaza border violates Israeli commitments, made to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"The Israeli government committed to President Abu Mazen [Abbas] not to use this as a sword over our neck. Food supplies, medical supplies, fuel supplies must not be touched," said Erekat. "This is a collective punishment that absolutely should not be tolerated by anyone in the international community."

Palestinian President Abbas says he is willing to take over Gaza's border crossing points, as a way of easing the crisis, even though his Fatah organization and Hamas are bitter enemies. American officials say the idea is worth studying.

For their part, Israeli officials say the blockade has worked - sending a message to Hamas that there will be consequences for continuing to fire rockets at southern Israel. Israeli officials have said the Gaza border will remain closed to all but humanitarian supplies until the rocket attacks completely stop. Speaking from his exile in Damascus, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal says the rocket attacks will continue despite the Israeli blockade.