Gaza Straining At Egypt's Door

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 18, 2007

RAFAH, Egypt, June 17 -- All but sealed off by Egypt and Israel, Gaza presented an intensifying security concern to its neighbors and a fast-approaching humanitarian crisis Sunday, three days after its takeover by Hamas.

Palestinian boys spilled over the rusted metal fence at Gaza's unguarded border to fly kites in the no man's land between Gaza and Egypt. Palestinian security forces, dominated by the Fatah movement, fled their border posts last week in the course of their rout by Hamas fighters.

Egyptian soldiers posted every 100 feet or so have effectively served on border duty for both sides of the frontier in the first days of Hamas's administration. The Egyptians chucked rocks at Palestinian boys who clung to the barbed wire and low concrete walls on the Egyptian side of the border at Salaheldin, a long-closed crossing 1 1/2 miles from the main Rafah transit point between Gaza and Egypt.

"The Jews have left us, but now we're fighting each other over power," Bahaa Abogazar, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, shouted through the barbed wire.

Egyptians who live in the border area said Hamas fighters showed up at the wall briefly on Friday, rocket launchers on their shoulders, and surveyed the southern border of their new mini-state.

Fighters in Gaza -- it wasn't clear from which faction, residents and soldiers said -- tried to blow a hole through the border wall earlier in the week. Hamas fighters pursuing Fatah fighters fired toward Egyptian soldiers Friday, an Egyptian border soldier in a fraying green uniform said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the events.

For decades, smugglers crawling on their hands and knees have hauled weapons through border tunnels. The Egyptian soldier said Saturday that smuggling has surged since Hamas's takeover of Gaza, and that more than 20 smugglers were caught in the previous three days.

The soldier pointed to a concrete house behind him. Two other Egyptian soldiers were positioned near a hole inside, he said, ready to catch anyone who emerged from the tunnel that connects Gaza to Egypt's Sinai.

"Hamas does not have time for the borders. Hamas is looking for traitors" in Gaza, an Egyptian merchant, Mahmoud al-Shaer, said as he scooped dried spices from plastic sacks at his shop at the border.

Egypt closed the border with Gaza last week when the fighting started. European Union monitors have suspended oversight at the frontier since Thursday because of security concerns. Egyptian officials said the decision to reopen Gaza's border would be made in consultation with the European Union and Israel.

Israel has largely closed Gaza's other land borders since Hamas took over and has kept close watch of Gaza's Mediterranean shores.

Gaza residents "are in a cage, and the door is closed," wailed Samira Abou Khanazsh, 47, who makes a living buying cheap goods in Egypt and selling them back home in Gaza.

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