Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Gaza-Egypt border closes as uprising continues

Gaza's Hamas rulers closed the Rafah border crossing, on Sunday 30th January, after guards on the Egyptian side fled their posts amid the spiralling unrest gripping the country.

As the angry revolt against President Hosni Mubarak entered its sixth day, Hamas officials announced the Rafah crossing would be closed for ' several days' , preventing hundreds of Palestinians from crossing into Egypt, according to AFP .

The border is normally closed during weekends, but there were some fears that the Egyptian troops stationed on their side of the crossing fled during the weekend. The Jerusalem Post , however, reports that Egyptian security forces have increased their presence along the border as of Sunday amid concerns that terrorist groups would take advantage of the chaos across Egypt to launch attacks against that country and Israel.

Israeli defense officials said the Egypt troop increase was undertaken in coordination with the Defense Ministry because, under the peace treaty between the countries, Egypt is not allowed to deploy large numbers of soldiers along its border with Israel.
Every day between 400 and 500 people cross from Gaza into Egypt.

The closure was likely to keep thousands of people trapped inside the Gaza Strip, while the lack of personnel on the Egyptian side of the divided border town of Rafah would also prevent hundreds of Gazans from returning home.

With the crossing closed, Hamas bolstered its forces along the border, deploying hundreds of troops compared with the usual number of around 50.

The Islamist movement has so far given no official reaction to the crisis in Egypt, where more than 125 people have been killed in the biggest demonstrations to sweep the country in more than 30 years.

But the closed border did not prevent at least two Hamas security prisoners from returning to the Strip after escaping from a jail near Cairo as Egyptian authorities struggled to maintain a grip on law and order.

The two, who entered Gaza through cross-border smuggling tunnels, were part of a group of eight escaped Hamas convicts trying to return home, a senior official with the movement said on condition of anonymity.

The prisoners made their escape when thousands broke out of jails across Egypt amid an absence of police and chaos sparked by nationwide riots demanding the end of Mubarak's regime.

Among those who returned on Sunday was Mohammed al-Shaer , a big name on the cross-border smuggling scene, arrested six months ago, and Hassan Wishah , who served three years of a 10-year term for unspecified security offences.

The remaining six prisoners were said to have reached Egypt's port city of El-Arish and were expected to reach Gaza later, official sources said.

Although the prisoners managed to enter the enclave by tunnel, most other movement of goods through the underground network ground to a halt on Sunday, sparking fears of a fuel shortage in the Israeli-blockaded territory.

Long queues formed at outlets selling fuel as Gazans began to stockpile petrol and diesel over fears that supplies from Egypt could be cut back, witnesses said.

Although most of Gaza's fuel supplies are brought in through the tunnels, the Hamas-run economy ministry insisted there was no shortage and called for an end to panic-buying.

" There is enough fuel in the stores and enough food. We urge people not to worry about fuel or other goods ," it said in a statement.

Sources: AFP, Jerusalem Post

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

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