Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gazans Breach Blockade and stream into Sinai

At least 350,000 shoppers from Gaza scrambled over a flattened security fence at the Rafah border and into the bazaars of Egypt early this morning to buy stocks of food, oil, medicine, flour, and cigarettes. It was like a collective nicotine fit for thousands who had withstood a prolonged, chilly weekend in Gaza replete with power cuts and cold food. Much of the Israeli press tried to paint the international outcry over the looming humanitarian crisis inside Gaza as a public relations coup for the Islamist party Hamas. Gazans should expect retaliation for their non-stop rocket attacks on Sderot, Israeli politicians admonished, and ought to turn against Hamas as the source of their problems.

There was a border skirmish between Gazans and Egyptian riot police at Rafah on Tuesday, then the 17 dawn blasts that breached the wall. Gunfire had erupted in the Palestinian crowd, as seen in this Al Jazeera clip.

Yet most Gazans were exhultant and some were quoted saying that after 17 blasts and a bulldozer, it felt like the equivalent of the Berlin Wall toppling.
James Hider, of the London Times, dug a little deeper and learned that

"Hamas had been involved for months in slicing through the heavy metal wall using oxy-acetylene cutting torches.

That meant that when the explosive charges were set off in 17 different locations after midnight last night the 40ft wall came tumbling down, leaving it lying like a broken concertina down the middle of no-man's land as an estimated 350,000 Gazans flooded into Egypt.

The guard, Lieutenant Abu Usama of the Palestinian National Security, said of the cutting operation: "I've seen this happening over the last few months. It happened in the daytime but was covered up so that nobody would see."

Asked whether he had reported it to the government, he replied: "It was the government that was doing this. Who would I report it to?"

Abu Usama, who normally works from a small guard cabin in no-man's land, added: "Last night we were told to keep away from the wall. We were ordered to stay away because they were going to break the blockade."


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