Gazans Storm into Egypt


RAFAH, Egypt (Reuters) – Hundreds of Palestinian protesters stormed the Rafah border crossing with Egypt from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to protest against an Israeli blockade, and an Egyptian police officer was shot, security and border sources said.

Gunfire rang out as the protesters tried to push their way through the crossing from the Hamas-run territory, live footage from Egyptian state-run television showed.

One Egyptian police officer was shot and wounded, and nine others were hurt by stone-throwing and in scuffles, security sources said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. There was no immediate word on any Palestinian casualties.

The protesters were demanding the reopening of the Rafah terminal, a mainly pedestrian border crossing that has been shut most of the time since June. They chanted slogans praising the armed wing of the Islamist Hamas group and its leader in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh.

The gunfire came from the Palestinian side of the border, Egyptian security sources said. Witnesses at the border said Egyptian police had also fired rubber bullets in the air.

Hours earlier, about 50 women had managed to cross from Gaza to the Egyptian side of the border crossing as police fired water cannon to disperse about 400 protesters on the Palestinian side, security sources said.

Israel has no presence at Rafah although a U.S.-brokered deal between the Jewish state and the Palestinians says the crossing cannot be opened without Israeli consent.

Egyptian security sources said Hamas security men had entered the Egyptian side of the border with Egypt’s consent to restore order and to take several hundred Palestinians back into Gaza.

Egypt beefed up border security on Monday with about 300 police as Palestinians demanded Rafah be opened for hospital patients a day after much of Gaza was plunged into darkness. Israel had blocked fuel supplies and sealed Gaza’s border in what it said was a response to Palestinian cross-border rocket salvoes.

Israel resumed fuel supplies to Gaza’s main power plant on Tuesday, offering limited respite. The shipment included at least three days’ worth of European Union-funded fuel.

Israel has said the Gaza privations were not reaching a crisis point and that its measures were a justified reaction to rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas and other groups.

Hamas opposes peace moves with Israel by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose administration condemned the closure as harmful to diplomacy.

The European Union and international agencies have denounced the closures as illegal “collective punishment” against Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, many of whom depend on outside aid.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has urged Israel to lift the blockade against Palestinians in the coastal strip. Mubarak telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Monday to warn of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Janet Lawrence)


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