Gazan exodus across frontier

Noor Al-Bazzaz 31 January 2008

Thousands of Palestinians poured over the Gazan-Egyptian border after Hamas militants broke open an Israeli blockade with explosives last Wednesday.

Palestinian militants set off 17 separate explosive charges to destroy the Israeli-built southern border wall, which had been closed since June 2007. Police tried to close the breach, but militants reopened it with a bulldozer the following day.

Throughout the week, the flattened barricades were flooded by people crossing on foot or by bicycle to stock up on goods which had been hard to come by in the Gaza Strip.

Able to travel across the border freely for the first time in seven months, Gazans used the opportunity to stock up on basic goods such as food and medicine that have been either unavailable or too expensive at home.

“We passed freely and we are happy here,” Samir Samiri, (30) told Reuters, adding that his visit to Egypt was the first time he had ever left Gaza.

The blockade was imposed by Israel on the Gaza strip after Hamas gained control of the city in June 2006 following a conflict with forces loyal to President Abbas’s party.

The humanitarian crisis escalated further after Israel completely sealed the borders on January 17th in retaliation for a sharp increase in rocket attacks from Gaza, which have wounded 82 Israeli civilians in the last six months.

Despite coming under international pressure from Israel and the US to reseal the border, the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, allowed the border to stay open for several days.

By Friday, Egyptian security forces had begun the process of closing the border with Gaza and re-imposing the Israeli blockade. But the blockade did not stay in place for long.

Following confrontations at the frontier, the security forces pulled back and the mass exodus from Gaza resumed.

Now, before the border can be brought back under control, Hamas (the ruling party in the Palestinian parliament) and President Abbas have to agree which of them will have control of the crossing.

Noor Al-Bazzaz