RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AFP) – Some 1,500 Palestinian security personnel have deployed on the Gaza-Egypt border, in a bid to impose order after a week of unchecked crossings by thousands.
Palestinian troops and riot police fired warning shots Saturday to keep back the crowds along the 14-kilometre-long (nine-mile-long) frontier, where anarchy has reigned since Israeli troops left the Gaza Strip on Monday.
Angry crowds threw stones at the security forces shepherding them away from the border, while the troops started to plug the giant holes punched in the 10-to-15 foot (five metre) high border fences over the past week, witnesses and security sources said.
"We deployed today 1,500 police and national security forces. It started at 7 am (0400 GMT) and it is completed now," interior ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khussa told AFP.
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, who has struggled to govern Gaza amid widespread looting of Jewish settlements since Israel pulled out, vowed Friday to bring the chaotic border situation under control within days.
Israeli and Palestinian officials have expressed concern that the collapse of border controls might have allowed large quantities of weapons and illegal drugs to be smuggled into the territory.
Following Israel”s pullout from Gaza, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt had agreed to police the Rafah border, which Israel had virtually locked down during the five-year uprising.
But rivals to the Palestinian Authority have defied Abbas. On Wednesday, witnesses saw militants from the Islamic faction Hamas blow up a section of the border fence, daring Palestinian security forces to stop them.
Abbas vowed Tuesday that he would no longer tolerate the "armed chaos" created by the territory”s myriad militant groups and insisted Palestinians would have only "one authority, one law and one legal weapon".
The Palestinian leader is to hold a new summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon early next month, the two men”s offices confirmed.
It will be their first meeting since Israel completed its historic withdrawal from Gaza after a 38-year presence in the impoverished territory.
"They will discuss Israel”s next step and how to implement more of the roadmap," Abbas”s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.
He was referring to an internationally drafted peace blueprint intended to pave the way for Palestinian statehood that has made next to no progress since its launch in 2003.
The New York Times reported that Sharon is threatening to block palestinian legislative elections in June if Islamic militant group Hamas is allowed to go ahead with its plans to participate.
"We will make every effort not to help them … I don”t think they can have elections without our help," the Israeli premier was quoted as saying on the sidelines of a UN summit in New York.
Sharon threatened to keep roadblocks and checkpoints in place across the West Bank, thereby making it impossible to reach polling stations, if Hamas takes part.
The move could be a blow to Abbas, who is banking on Hamas”s participation to woo the militant group away from the armed struggle into mainstream politics.
But Israel has expressed concern that Hamas could sweep away the Palestinian leader and his Fatah faction in the election.
In municipal elections earlier this year, Hamas already took control of a string of town halls across the Gaza Strip.
Fatah has been marred by internal fighting among its numerous factions since veteran leader Yasser Arafat died last November.
In other developments, the Israeli army announced it had arrested two Fatah militants in the al-Aza camp near Bethlehem in the West Bank.
Israel also freed two Lebanese shepherds who had been detained in the disputed Shebaa Farms border area on Friday, the military said.