RAFAH, Gaza (Reuters) – Palestinian militants blew up part of the wall between Gaza and Egypt on Wednesday, and tens of thousands of Palestinians poured into Egypt to stock up on food and fuel in short supply due to an Israeli blockade.
Residents of the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah said a group of militants, including members of Hamas, set off a series of explosions overnight, demolishing about 200 meters (yards) of the border wall. Hamas denied involvement.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians thronged into Egyptian territory, some on donkey carts and carrying luggage to bring consumer goods and fuel back into the Hamas-run territory.
“I have bought everything I need for the house for months. I have bought food, cigarettes and even two gallons of diesel for my car,” said Mohammed Saeed, who was pushing a trolley.
Egyptian riot police sent to reinforce the border mainly stood aside and let the Palestinians through, witnesses said.
“Palestinian gunmen created at least 15 openings in the wall between Egypt and Gaza, and a Palestinian bulldozer was demolishing large parts of it and is still working to destroy the rest of the wall,” an Egyptian security source said.
Israel closed its borders with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip last week, cutting fuel supplies to the territory’s main power plant and petrol stations and stopping aid shipments that include food and other humanitarian supplies.
Israel said the blockade was aimed to make Palestinian militants stop firing rockets into southern Israel. The Israeli army says about 250 rockets and mortars have pounded Israel since last week, amid an escalation of violence in which Israeli troops killed more than 30 Palestinians.
The European Union and international agencies have called the closure collective punishment on Gaza’s 1.5 million people.
Israel resumed fuel supplies to Gaza’s main power plant on Tuesday, offering limited respite from the blockade that had plunged much of the Hamas-ruled territory into darkness.
Gaza has been largely cut off since Hamas Islamists routed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah forces to take over the territory in June.
Residents in Rafah said members of Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees were among gunmen who blew up the wall.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri denied Hamas was involved, but said: “It was impossible to prevent the bombing of the border.”
Many of the Palestinians, some traveling from the northern Gaza Strip, found transport towards the Egyptian coastal town of El Arish, about 40 km (25 miles) away.
Others stayed in the Egyptian side of Rafah and clamored to buy petrol, cigarettes, olive oil and other foodstuffs, which have been in short supply in Gaza — emptying some shops.
“The bakeries are not working and there are difficulties in getting the things we need,” said a 42-year-old housewife who gave her name as Umm Raid and crossed the border with two of her children. “I came to buy milk for my children and to get medicine for diabetes.”
Witnesses said Egypt’s Central Security force, which deals with crowd control, had about 50 trucks in the Rafah area but had not intervened to stop the Palestinians.
The Egyptian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Egyptian police were trying to stop Palestinians from leaving Rafah for other parts of Egypt.
Adel Salman, an Egyptian resident of Rafah on the Egyptian side of the border, said: “I saw hundreds of Palestinians carrying jerrycans and heading to petrol stations to get petrol and diesel.”