RAFAH, Gaza Strip – Egyptian police sealed Gaza’s border with huge metal spikes and shipping containers Sunday, restoring a tight blockade after a breach that allowed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to cross freely for 12 days.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers are demanding new border arrangements that would give them a say in administration. But that looks doubtful with the international community opposed to any role for the Islamic militant group in running the crossing.
Gaza residents settled back into their dreary closure routine after joyous days of freedom and shopping that flooded the territory with sheep, smoked herring and fuel from Egypt.
“We’re back to the same siege and the same problems,” said Alaa al-Astal, 33, a security guard at a Gaza university.
“At least it (the breach) got me this,” he added, proudly pointing to a Chinese-made motorbike he bought in Egypt for $1,000 in hopes of cutting the cost of his work commute in half.
Egypt warned Hamas against trying to open the border by force again, as it did on Jan. 23.
“Egypt is a respected state. Its border cannot be breached and its soldiers should not be lobbed with stones,” said Suleiman Awwad, spokesman for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The border breach temporarily relieved a seven-month blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized Gaza by force in June.
The opening briefly boosted the popularity of Hamas, as hundreds of thousands of blockade-weary Gazans rushed to Egypt’s border region, stocking up on supplies from dishwashing liquid to yeast, cigarettes, mattresses and cement.
On Sunday, the traffic slowed to a trickle as helmeted Egyptian border guards with plastic shields blocked the remaining border openings, allowing only Gazans and Egyptians on the wrong side of the border to return home.
Dozens of Gazans crowded around the Egyptian forces, whose faces were protected by plastic visors.
Shin-Bet security chief Yuval Diskin told Israel’s Cabinet on Sunday that “long range rockets, anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles were brought into Gaza,” according to a participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.
Hamas, meanwhile, appears to be running out of options for keeping the border open, as it pledged.
Another breach appears unlikely because Hamas cannot afford to alienate Egypt, its main conduit to the Arab world. If Hamas used force against Egyptian forces at the border now, it would be seen as a major provocation.
Yet a negotiated border deal also seems unlikely.
International leaders are siding with Hamas’ rival, moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who demands a return to a U.S.-backed 2005 border arrangement.
That would post EU monitors on the Palestinian side of the border, with Israel watching from a distance and given a final say on whether the border should open. Hamas wants Israel kept out of any border deal.