More than 100 Palestinians expelled by Col. Moammar Gadhafi lay in the main road between Libya and Egypt on Saturday, closing the border to traffic and brawling with Egyptians trying to cross.
The 16-hour protest was the latest chapter in a monthlong ordeal for Palestinians who once lived in Libya but are now being forced by the hundreds to a wretched desert camp on the border.
Fistfights broke out when Egyptians tried to push their way through the blockade. Some Egyptians carrying luggage walked the last three miles to Libya, and hundreds of cars lined up on each side of the crossing, witness said.
The protest broke up Saturday evening and cross-border traffic resumed.
The Palestinians then returned to the camp, where more than 1,000 Palestinians are living in 130 green military tents. But they threatened to take unspecified action after 72 hours if Egypt does not let them cross.
Egyptian security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested that the Libyan government had orchestrated the protest to keep attention on the Palestinians’ plight.
Gadhafi began expelling Libya’s 30,000 Palestinians in September to protest the Israel-PLO accord. He says the pact fails to provide for Palestinians who lost their homes when Israel was created in 1948.
Other Arab states and the Palestine Liberation Organization have condemned the deportations as a propaganda ploy.
Saturday’s protest came shortly after Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa met Gadhafi in Libya to urge him to stop the expulsions. Moussa had already crossed back into Egypt by the time the demonstration began early Saturday.
“I expect positive developments concerning the Palestinians living in Libya,” Moussa said. He added that Gadhafi showed a “complete understanding” of the Egyptian position.
Last month, Gadhafi reportedly stopped the expulsions after pressure from Arab leaders, but he resumed them last week.
Egypt had already sent one envoy to Libya to seek an end to the expulsions, but the dispatch of Moussa seemed to suggest Egypt wanted the issue resolved quickly. Egypt has refused to let Palestinians cross the border unless they have travel documents.
At the crossing, between 100 and 200 youths lay down across the border, hoisted a Palestinian flag and claimed the no man’s land was Palestinian since neither country would grant them entry.
The young men carried no travel documents and said their families were still living in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.
Palestinians on the border have suggested in recent days that Libya had sent young Palestinians to hold demonstrations. On Friday, Palestinian youths burned tires at the camp.