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Border wall breached, 50,000 flee Gaza for Egypt

RAFAH, Gaza (CNN) — At least 50,000 people poured from Gaza into Egypt on Wednesday to buy food and fuel after Palestinians blew holes in the border wall, according to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.

The exodus came after Israel closed all its Gaza border crossings Friday to punish Gaza’s Hamas leadership following days of rocket attacks on southern Israel.

Egyptian guards did not intervene as wave after wave of men — cheered on by children chanting God is great — washed over fences along the border and into Egypt. They left on foot, in cars and atop donkey carts.

Israel’s border closings have left Hamas-controlled Gaza cut off from food, fuel and other necessities. Aid agencies warned of the impending humanitarian crisis. Watch more from the scene

Israel’s Foreign Ministry told CNN that an open border posed a security risk for the country.

When the exit [from Gaza] is open, so is the entrance, ministry spokesman Aryeh Mekel said. Hamas and other terrorist groups may use this opportunity to smuggle weapons and terrorists into Gaza.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he had ordered his troops to allow Palestinians to cross into Egypt because they were starving, according to Egypt’s state-run news agency MENA.

I told them to let them come in and eat and buy food and then return them later as long as they were not carrying weapons, Mubarak told The Associated Press.

The outpouring into Egypt began about 2 a.m. Wednesday, when residents reported hearing explosions near the border. Authorities said militants set off several explosions.

At least six spots on the border wall had been blown apart. In another stretch, a steel coil wall had been sheared off.

By daybreak, lines of people waited restlessly as a frontloader tore chunks of concrete from a border wall. Hundreds of cars streamed toward Rafah — on the Egyptian border — unloading occupants who then jumped over.

Others returned, carrying bags of food and cans of fuel. Two men tottered under the weight of mattresses they balanced on their backs. A small boy, dragging a sack, tried to keep up.

John Ging, head of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency in Gaza, called the exodus the desperate acts of a desperate people.

Everything that is needed for the sustainment of life here is in short supply or has run out, Ging said.

We’ve run out of terms ourselves to describe how miserable and desperate the situation [is]. But what is now happening today is yet another manifestation of that reality, in terms of people’s determination to break free from this shackle that they’re under at the moment.

Border access between Gaza and Egypt has been greatly restricted since 2007, when the militant group Hamas took over the territory.

On Tuesday, Israel allowed fuel and medical supplies into Gaza, easing the blockade somewhat.

But frustrations over the situation erupted in a clash between Palestinian demonstrators and Egyptian security forces at the Gaza-Egypt border. Dozens of people were injured, Palestinian medical sources said.

It is the first time since June when people have been able to come and go as they please across the border. There are no border controls whatsoever, no passport control.

Palestinian authorities carried out spot searches of goods carried by Palestinians, arresting two people for possessing large quantities of hashish.

Some Palestinians left Gaza with no plans to return. One man said he hoped to get his son all the way to Cairo and on a plane for Morocco, where he has enrolled in a university but has been unable to leave the territory.

Also Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza by finding different ways to punish Hamas.

Rice spoke to reporters aboard her plane en route to Germany, where she will meet with her counterparts from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China to discuss a new round of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

We have spoken to the Israelis about the importance of not allowing humanitarian crisis to unfold there, Rice said. They’ve said that they do not want a humanitarian crisis and that they understand the need to permit fuel and electricity in Gaza, so we will see.

Rice was responding to a question about a call she received from Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit. He asked Rice to put pressure on Israel about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Rice blamed Gaza’s Hamas leadership for its defiance of the international community. Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization which Israel and the United States consider a terrorist organization.

Rice said Israel was trying to respond to rockets from Gaza into Israel and the terror and anxiety that those attacks are placing on the Israeli population.

Israel’s Ministry of Defense said it will consider whether to allow further shipments after Tuesday’s delivery.

Rice said the Mideast Quartet — composed of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia — is examining a plan by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for the Palestinian Authority to take a greater role in monitoring border crossings between Gaza and Israel.

Gaza receives about 70 percent of its electricity from Israel, and the bulk of the remaining power comes from a generation plant in Gaza. That plant relies on fuel supplied by an Israeli company.
Border wall breached, 50,000 flee Gaza for Egypt – found here.

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January 23, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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