Gazans Stream Into Egypt As Border Wall Is Breached

Tens of thousands of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip crossed into Egypt on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008, after masked gunmen blasted through a border wall.
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 24, 2008

RAFAH, Gaza Strip, Jan. 23 -- Gunmen destroyed vast sections of the seven-mile-long barricade that divides the Gaza Strip and Egypt on Wednesday, allowing tens of thousands of Palestinians to stream across the border and revel in a day away from a territory where Israeli restrictions have stifled the economy and caused blackouts and food shortages.

Jubilant Gazans flooded unhindered into Egypt, then hauled back purchases ranging from cigarettes and diesel fuel to goats, cows and camels. Other Palestinians walked for miles along Egyptian roads until their enthusiasm subsided and they sank, exhausted, onto curbs to rest.

"We were not able to go out!" Amial Tarazi, a 28-year-old office worker in Gaza City, said after clambering over broken stubs of the border wall in heels and a dress. She stepped into Egypt alongside two co-workers who had scaled the rubble in jackets and ties.

"We don't care about buying anything," Tarazi said. "We just wanted to see Egypt. We just wanted to get out."

Since the armed Hamas movement took control of Gaza last June, Israel and Egypt have all but sealed off the crossings that allow Gazans to travel and trade. On Friday, Israel began imposing an even stricter blockade on the territory of 1.5 million people to press Hamas to bring a halt to steady Palestinian rocket and mortar fire from Gaza into southern Israel.

Wednesday's breach of the wall forced Israel and Egypt to weigh the security implications of a suddenly porous boundary. Hamas members joined the crowds crossing the border as Egyptian guards glowered but did not interfere.

Gazans credited Hamas with opening the wall, although the movement did not openly assert responsibility. Hamas officials told reporters that 17 explosions had destroyed parts of the barricade, in some instances taking down sections hundreds of yards long.

The extent of Hamas's control over the territory and the border area made it unlikely that another group could have carried out the breach.

In recent days Gazans have expressed increasing resentment toward Hamas for provoking the blockade, which led to power blackouts, water cutoffs and food shortages, but the opening of the wall boosted the movement's image.

Sharuk Abou Jazur, 12, in pink clothing and pigtails, skipped back toward Gaza with plastic bags crammed full of oranges from Egypt.

"The siege is over! It was Hamas's people who freed us," she said.

The breaking of the wall began about 2 a.m. Wednesday. Residents of the border town of Rafah said they awoke to the sound of explosions.

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