RAFAH, Egypt (AFP) – Thousands of Gazans poured over the breached border with Egypt for a 10th straight day on Friday as officials in Cairo held fresh talks with the Islamist Hamas movement on restoring order.
For a second day, Egyptian security forces attempted to block vehicles passing through the two makeshift crossing points in the divided border town of Rafah.
But the action drew an angry response from Hamas militants who tore down the heavy metal roadblocks erected by police prompting the Egyptian authorities to allow cars through in the afternoon.
Motorists were unable to drive too far into the Egyptian part of Rafah, however, as police set up roadblocks causing immense traffic jams.
The leading Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram had announced in its Friday edition that the authorities would close one of the two crossings blown open in the border wall within hours in readiness for the complete resealing of the frontier.
But both the Brazil and Saleheddin Gate breaches remained open throughout the day, supervised by Egyptian police and Hamas paramilitaries.
An Egyptian policeman told AFP he had no idea when the border would finally be resealed. “No one knows apart from President (Hosni) Mubarak,” he told AFP.
Many of the Gazans crossing on Friday voiced fears that it would be their last chance to stock up on goods rendered scarce at home by the Israeli lockdown imposed on January 17.
“It appears that they’ll close the border soon,” said Nabil Khader who had come from the Gaza Strip’s second city of Khan Yunis to stock up. “It’s terrible because we’re slowly starving to death in Gaza.”
Those who had invested in Egyptian goods for resale at home fretted about getting them back into Gaza before the security forces took action.
“My brother and I bought nearly 6,000 dollars worth of foodstuffs in Egypt,” said Iyad Abed Rabbo as he pushed a wheelbarrow loaded down with crisp packets.
“If they close the border and we can’t get the goods into Gaza, we’ll lose all that money.”
But Hamas militants insisted that they could easily repeat last week’s operation in which they blew up large sections of the border wall if Egypt attempted to reseal it.
“This time we’ll blow up the whole border not just sections of it,” said one militant who asked not to be identified.
Meanwhile, the Islamist movement’s exiled supreme leader, Khaled Meshaal, concluded a new round of talks in Cairo with intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s pointman for Palestinian affairs.
Hamas officials said they were asking that the makeshift crossings remain open until new procedures have been agreed to allow the reopening of Rafah’s recognized border terminal, which has remained largely shut since June 2006.
“There was progress towards an understanding concerning the Rafah terminal, but we haven’t reached agreement and we need to pursue further talks with with the Egyptian leaders,” leading Hamas official Mohamed Nasr told AFP.
The delegation, including representatives from Gaza and Damascus, left Cairo after 48 hours of talks.
Egypt refused to comment on the outcome.
The Islamists insist that they cannot accept a return to a 2005 agreement reached by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas when he still controlled the Gaza Strip. Under it, the terminal was to be supervised by European Union monitors with cameras allowing round-the-clock surveillance by Israel.
“We said the border must be under Egyptian-Palestinian control with no Israeli interference… and with no European partners,” said senior Hamas official Mahmud Zahar, who took part in the talks.
But he added that Hamas was prepared to accept the deployment at the terminal of representatives of the Palestinian president, whose security forces Hamas wer ousted from Gaza in June last year.
Abbas insists that control of the Palestinian territories’ international borders is his prerogative.