ISMAILIA, Egypt, (Reuters) – Dozens of Palestinian protesters stormed the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in two separate pushes on Tuesday, forcing their way past Egyptian riot police, security and border sources said.
Gunfire was heard as dozens of protesters tried to push their way across the Rafah crossing from the Gaza Strip, live footage from Egyptian state-run television showed. There were no immediate reports of injuries from the shooting.
The breach came hours after about 50 women managed to cross from Gaza to the Egyptian side of the border terminal as police fired water cannon to disperse about 400 protesters on the Palestinian side, security sources said.
The protesters were demanding the reopening of the Rafah crossing, which has been shut most of the time since June. They chanted slogans in praise of the armed wing of the Islamist movement Hamas and its leader in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh.
Egypt had beefed up security on the border on Monday with about 300 police. The women were held inside the Rafah terminal while Egyptian police had talks with Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, on returning them to Gaza, the sources added.
Israel resumed fuel supplies to Gaza’s main power plant on Tuesday, offering limited respite from a blockade that plunged much of Gaza into darkness on Sunday when the plant shut down. Israel had blocked fuel supplies and sealed the border.
Israel has no presence at Rafah although a U.S.-brokered deal between the Jewish state and the Palestinians says the crossing cannot be opened without Israeli consent.
Israel also gave the European Union permission to bring a week’s worth of EU-funded industrial fuel for the generating plant. Israel has said the Gaza privations were not reaching a crisis point and that its measures were a justified reaction to rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas and other groups.
The European Union and international agencies have denounced the closures as illegal “collective punishment” against Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, many of whom depend on outside aid.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has urged Israel to lift the blockade against Palestinians in the coastal strip. Mubarak telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Monday to warn of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.