Gaza border flow slowed
RAFAH, Gaza Strip – Palestinian forces sealed off five major breaches along Gaza’s southern border Saturday, firing warning shots and clashing with stone-throwing crowds in their strongest effort yet to halt the chaotic flood of people in and out of Egypt since Israel withdrew from the area.
Throughout the day, crowds pelted Palestinian and Egyptian troops and managed to force their way across the border. But in contrast to previous days, the forces appeared determined to carry out Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ promise to have the border under control within the next few days. Eight people were wounded.
Also, about 60 members of rival Palestinian security units engaged in a shootout in the center of the West Bank town of Ramallah after two officers feuded over a parking space, security officials said. No one was hurt.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinians poured into two empty West Bank settlements evacuated by Israel last month, setting fires and rushing off with piles of wood and other debris.
The border mayhem and other unrest reflected the challenge that Abbas faces in asserting control after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel says there can be no progress in peace talks until Abbas imposes law and order.
Since Israel completed its withdrawal last week, thousands of people have crossed freely between Gaza and Egypt. Most people have gone to shop or see long-lost relatives, but Palestinian officials acknowledge that drugs and assault rifles also have entered Gaza.
Early Saturday, helmeted Palestinian riot police patrolled the border area, checking documents and bags carried by Palestinians returning from Egypt. Police also prevented Gazans from entering Egypt, witnesses said.
Palestinian bulldozers and cranes began closing holes in the border barriers, and Egyptian border guards rolled out barbed wire to keep trespassers out. By late Saturday, five of 14 holes in a border fence had been sealed with large concrete barriers.
“Egypt issued orders first not to let anyone through and we followed suit. Our dream is to have an Egyptian-Palestinian border without Israel or its approval. God willing, this will happen,” said Palestinian riot policeman Abdel Aziz Hamdan.
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