Clashes As Egypt Tries To Seal Gaza Border

Egyptian border guards and riot police officers clash with Palestinians trying to cross the border after militants exploded the border wall between Gaza Strip and Egypt earlier this week, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, Jan. 25, 2008.
AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
Thousands of Palestinians pushed their way into Egypt past human chains of guards with riot shields after a bulldozer wrecked another section of fence along the Egypt-Gaza border.

Men in black clothing, some of them masked, stood atop the bulldozer as it knocked down a concrete slab under the watchful eyes of Egyptian forces on the other side who shot in the air in an attempt to hinder the flow of Gazans into Egypt.

Palestinians, many of them carrying empty fuel canisters, managed to push through several openings despite the presence of the Egyptians deployed nine rows deep in some places. At one point, guards aimed a water cannon above the heads of people, not at them, to keep them back.

Cranes were positioned next to the border, lifting crates of supplies and even livestock over into Gaza.

The border was first breached Wednesday, when Palestinian militants blew down large sections of the border wall. Since then, Egypt has allowed tens of thousands of Palestinians to go back and forth, but has rejected any suggestion of assuming responsibility for the crowded, impoverished territory.

Earlier Friday, Egyptian forces took up positions a few steps into Palestinian territory, using shields to protect themselves from some Gazans who climbed atop car roofs and threw stones at them. Witnesses said a photographer was lightly injured in the clash.

The visitors included a gaggle of Palestinian women in finely embroidered dresses and fresh makeup, heading to relatives' weddings in Egypt they said had been hastily moved up to allow Gazan family members to attend.

Yousef Mohammed, 17, from Gaza, said he waited until Friday to make the trip because he was trying to get together enough money first to shop in Egypt. "They don't want us to go in," he said, pointing at the riot police.

Travelers returning from Egypt said they heard loudspeaker announcements there that Gazans had to return home by 7 p.m. Friday.

In related developments:

  • Warning that militants were among the Palestinians who entered Egypt, the Israeli military raised its level of alert Thursday, fearing an attack on Israel and closed the highway along the Israel-Egypt border. CBS News correspondent Robert Berger reports that tensions ran high in Jerusalem at a site holy to both Muslims and Jews. Israeli police barred Palestinian males under the age of 40 from attending Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque, the site Jews call the Temple Mount. In the past, violence at the site has spread quickly. The restrictions worked, and the prayers passed quietly.
    (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • Overnight, Israeli air strikes killed four Hamas militants around Rafah, Palestinian and Israeli officials said Friday. Two Hamas militiamen were killed as they drove near the shattered border fence with Egypt (wreckage from air strike seen at left) and two more died while driving in Rafah town, Palestinian security officials said. The Israeli military described both strikes as being against "terrorists".
  • Palestinians carried out two attacks on Israelis late Thursday. In east Jerusalem, gunmen shot and killed an Israeli police officer at a roadblock, and in a West Bank Jewish settlement, two infiltrators stabbed three Israeli students. Berger reports armed teachers shot and killed the assailants, prompting all-night celebrations at the settlement. The two Palestinians were recently freed from an Israel prison after serving two years for terrorist activity.