Egypt tries to limit Gazans' entry

The Baltimore Sun

JERUSALEM -- Egyptian riot police used armored vehicles to try to restrict Gazans from taking cars into Egypt yesterday, and the Egyptian foreign minister warned of "provocations" at the border. He said that at least 36 Egyptian security officers had been hospitalized, some in critical condition, after confrontations with Palestinians.

In a thinly veiled rebuke to the militant group Hamas, which governs Gaza, the Egyptian minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said in Cairo that Egypt would show restraint but not at the cost of Egyptian lives.

"The Egyptian decision has been to allow in the sons of Gaza to ease their suffering," he said. "This was the Egyptian decision taken a few days ago, and we are still holding to it."

He added that the Egyptians wanted to regulate the entry and exit of Gazans and talk with the "concerned parties" to devise a new border system. But it was unlikely that Egypt would tolerate a continued confrontation with Hamas.

After Israel severely tightened its import restrictions on Gaza, to try to force a reduction of rockets and mortar shells fired into Israel, Hamas breached the border with Egypt in nearly 20 places early Wednesday morning.

Hamas explosives blew down large sections of the wall that Israel had built just inside Gaza to protect its forces, which used to patrol along the Egyptian border in what was otherwise a no-man's land. The border is marked by a low concrete wall topped with barbed wire, which is easily breached.

Traffic over the border remained heavy yesterday, but residents of the Egyptian towns Rafah and El Arish reported severe shortages of supplies and a growing fatigue with the Palestinian influx.

In Rafah, a cafe was down to its last 12 bottles of water, which were priced at the equivalent of 90 cents, instead of the normal 27 cents. But in Gaza, Egyptian cars and trucks were also seen, delivering supplies to stores and supermarkets.

In an interview published yesterday, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, decrying the use of violence and the factional struggle among Palestinians between Fatah and Hamas, invited both groups to Cairo for talks.

Hamas accepted; the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, repeated his stance that he would not meet with Hamas until it apologized for its "coup" in Gaza and handed power back to the Palestinian Authority.

An Abbas aide, Nabil Shaath, said that Abbas would travel to Egypt after meeting the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, today. Abbas will once again push Olmert to accept his presidential guards' taking control of the Gazan side of the crossings from Israel and of the border with Egypt, despite Hamas' control over Gaza.

Israeli troops remained on high alert along the border with Egypt, watching for militants from Gaza trying to enter Israel through the Sinai desert.

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