Gazans make new breach in Egyptian border wall

Palestinians bulldozed a new hole in the border wall between Gaza and Egypt on Friday, in response to Egyptian border guards' attempts to restrict thousands of Palestinians from entering.

Palestinians bulldozed a new hole in the already-breached border wall between Gaza and Egypt on Friday, in response to Egyptian border guards' attempts to keep thousands of Gazans from entering.

Earlier in the day, Egyptian authorities erected barbed wire, fired warning shots and used water cannons to repel Palestinians attempting to cross the border, while officials warned over loudspeakers that they would no longer be allowed to enter to shop and visit relatives.

Palestinians cross from the Egyptian side of Rafah to the Gaza Strip over the border wall on Friday. ((Eyad Baba/Associated Press))

Teams of border guards used shields and police dogs to form a cordon to block Palestinians from crossing the downed wall near the town of Rafah. Angry Gazans threw rocks at the officers, who responded by firing shots in the air and blasting water cannons. 

The guards' efforts had barely any effect on the tide of people, Daily Telegraph reporter Tim Butcher told CBC News on Friday from Gaza.

"The numbers were too much for them," Butcher said. "They were simply overwhelmed."

Egypt has come under pressure from the United States and Israel to re-seal the gap in its Gaza border, opened Wednesday when Palestinian militants blasted holes in a section of the 11-kilometre corrugated metal wall.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have since streamed across the border to buy items such as fuel, food, cleaning supplies, televisions, crates of soft drinks and cigarettes — items in short supply in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Others reunited with relatives they hadn't seen in months or years.

Shopping migration

"No one stays in Gaza today; all the people [are] at the border," Gaza resident Samar El-Ramadi told CBC News on Friday, after she tried to cross over to Egypt again with her brother.

El-Ramadi recalled the joy she felt when she managed to cross into Egypt on Wednesday to shop for basic items hard to come by in Gaza.

"I went there to buy things that my children ask for: cookies, sweets," she said. "They miss them a lot."

Israel closed its border crossings with the Gaza Strip last Friday, blocking shipments of food and fuel to the 1.5 million people living in the territory in an effort to end Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. The rocket attacks increased dramatically after an earlier Israeli raid killed at least 19 Palestinians.

Hamas, in response to the blockade, shut down Gaza's main power plant last Sunday and blamed Israel for the fuel shortage, while Israeli officials maintained Hamas was creating an artificial crisis to draw international sympathy.

A crane lifts a cow from the Egyptian side of Rafah to the Gaza Strip over the border wall in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday. ((Eyad Baba/Associated Press))

Israel has expressed its concern over the breached border crossing into Egypt, warning it expects Egyptian officials to gain control over the situation. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice echoed those comments Thursday.

Also Friday, Israeli aircraft killed four Hamas militants in overnight missile strikes around Rafah. Two Hamas militiamen were killed as they drove near the shattered border fence and two more were killed while driving in Rafah town, Palestinian security officials said.

Israel and Egypt have banned most crossings in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in June. Egypt has kept its border closed, tacitly supporting Israel's blockade out of fear of a spillover of Hamas-style militancy to its territory.

El-Ramadi said Gazans will be extremely frustrated if Egypt closes the border and they are sealed in the territory again.

"We will be back in the prison," she said.

With files from the Associated Press