In a bold act of defiance, frustrated Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip on Friday confronted Egyptian security forces who were attempting...
RAFAH, Gaza Strip — In a bold act of defiance, frustrated Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip on Friday confronted Egyptian security forces who were attempting to reseal the broken border, then brought in a bulldozer to open yet another breach.
As Egyptian forces in riot gear looked on, Palestinians rushed through the hole and abruptly halted Egypt’s attempts to close the border.
What was supposed to be the beginning of the end of a temporary escape valve for Gaza’s 1.5 million residents instead became a setback for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Over three days, as many as 100,000 Palestinians have crossed into Egypt to stock up on dish soap, soda, cement, cows, camels, tires, cigarettes, cheese, dates and other household goods.
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Friday’s clash could force Mubarak to choose between using potentially deadly force to seal the border with Gaza and allowing the Palestinian influx to continue.
“Hamas appears ready for a showdown,” said Nick Pelham, a Jerusalem-based researcher for the International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan research center based in Belgium. “This has the potential to snowball.”
Mubarak garnered widespread praise in the Arab world Wednesday by allowing Palestinians to flow out of Gaza after militants demolished the border walls.
Since Hamas won parliamentary elections a year ago and seized control of Gaza last June, Mubarak has cooperated with attempts to isolate the militant Islamic group by largely closing Egypt’s border with Gaza and by preventing Palestinians from using the only passage that Israel doesn’t fully regulate.
Hamas has been struggling to end its isolation in Gaza ever since its militant wing routed fighters loyal to pro-Western Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in June.
Israel and the United States have worked to marginalize Hamas by shoring up Abbas and launching a new round of peace talks.
Israel cut off the usual flow of food, fuel and other basic supplies, and its leaders have vowed to retain the restrictions until Gaza militants halt their daily barrage of crude rockets and mortars on southern Israel.
Now that the border with Egypt has been opened, Hamas is looking to use the standoff to force Abbas to resume reconciliation talks. Mubarak offered to broker negotiations in Cairo, which Hamas quickly accepted. But Abbas will be under intense pressure from Israel and the United States not to take part because it would give Hamas a new political opening.