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Egypt Begins Closing Gaza Border


Egyptian security forces have begun shutting down the border with the Gaza Strip two days after it was blown open by armed Gaza militants. Hundreds of thousands of people have crossed into Egypt to buy food and other supplies, but border guards are now trying to shut down the flow of people. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from Cairo.

Egyptian security forces in riot gear formed a human chain to try to stop people from flooding into Egypt from the Gaza Strip through the main breach in the security wall. They continued to allow people to pass in the other direction, back into Gaza. Over loudspeakers, they announced that the border would be closed completely by the end of the day.

Crowds quickly formed on the Palestinian side after the shutdown, and people continued to try to push through. Border guards aimed a water cannon over the heads of the crowd to try to force them back. Scuffles broke out several times, and witnesses said some protesters threw rocks at the police.

But the border wall is broken in several places, and reports from the scene said people at other spots continued to pass through relatively unhindered.

Police set up checkpoints along the roads leading out of Sinai to keep Palestinians from traveling to Cairo or elsewhere outside the border region.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have crossed into Egypt since Gaza-based militants knocked down much of the border wall with explosives early Wednesday. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he ordered security forces to let them pass in order to buy food, medicine, fuel and other vital supplies, and to return to Gaza "as long as they were not carrying weapons."

Shop shelves were quickly wiped clean in the border towns of Rafah and El-Arish. Some Palestinians ordered goods to be delivered from Cairo. Many other people crossed the border in both directions to visit relatives.

The Rafah border post is the only way in or out of Gaza that bypasses Israel. It has been almost entirely shut down since the violent takeover of Gaza by Hamas in June.

Militants knocked down the border wall after Israel enforced a blockade on Gaza, at first barring shipments of fuel but later allowing some to be delivered to the main power station.

Hamas wants Egypt to leave the border open, but Israel wants it shut down again, and Egyptian authorities are also concerned that a wide open border with Gaza could threaten Egypt's own domestic security.

Israel has for months accused Egypt of not doing enough to stop the smuggling of weapons and money into Gaza, charges Egypt denies.

An Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman was unavailable for comment Friday, but he said on Thursday that the border would eventually be closed and, things would "go back to normal."