Hamas, Egyptians cooperate on Gaza border

The Palestinian Islamic group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and Egyptian security forces have begun to close the breached Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt, leaving as of 29 January only a couple of small openings in the border fence. 

[Read this report in Arabic]

While some Egyptian merchants were still occupying parts of Palestine Square in Gaza city, which had turned into a makeshift market, many Palestinians who tried to cross the border said a large Egyptian police presence had turned them back.

"There is definitely a feeling that the ride is over. Time is up, and the free border will be closed eventually," said one observer in Gaza City.

Egyptian security forces had started on 26-27 January to set up road blocks on the main street to the town of Al-Arish, some 40km from Rafah, and forced shops to close in order to stop the influx of Gazans. Palestinians have said they see little point in trying to go to northern Sinai any longer, as there is nothing to buy and nowhere to stay.

Soha Oda, a 19-year-old sociology student from Cairo University visiting her family in Rafah, said on 28 January: "There are no products to be bought here anymore. The police have stopped the transportation of goods to the area, so that people would automatically move back to Gaza."

Some Egyptians have also expressed concern about the chaos created by the Palestinian shopping spree.

''There is definitely a feeling that the ride is over. Time is up, and the free border will be closed eventually.''

About 100 Palestinians remained at a sit-in in Egypt’s northern Sinai, demanding the right to travel to Cairo and onwards to the rest of the world. Many of them had been stranded in Gaza since the Hamas takeover in June 2007. Egyptian officials have said travel within their country, without valid visas, is illegal.

The Egyptian cooperation with Hamas in shutting down the border, is a breakthrough (or a setback, depending on your point of view) in the sense that Hamas security forces are, at least for now, not being publicly ostracized any longer, though the two sides have had quiet talks and some cooperation, for example in letting pilgrims out for the Hajj (pilgrimage).

On 30 January Hamas leaders head to Cairo to speak with Egyptian officials on the border crossing issue, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.