EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) – The border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip remained open for an eighth day Wednesday, with Palestinians moving freely into the Egyptian side of the divided Gaza town, even as their leaders prepared to discuss the future of the dispute frontier.
A delegation from the Islamist Hamas movement including top leader Mahmoud Zahar, crossed into Egypt through Rafah where they were met by Egyptian officials before continuing on to Cairo to join other leaders in their organization for talks with Egyptian officials.
“Egypt is our gate to the Arab, Islamic and entire world,” said Mahmoud Zahar to Arabic satellite news channel al-Jazeera. “Therefore we will not allow the crossing to be used as a tool to suffocate the Palestinian people again.”
For the last eight days, Gazans suffering from nearly two years of an economic blockade streamed into Egypt to buy much needed livestock, food and consumer supplies. The border was closed, with tacit Egyptian acceptance, after Hamas won an election in 2006.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose West Bank-based government is locked in a deadly rivalry with Hamas, rejects any role for the organization on the border, despite its total dominance of the Gaza Strip.
Egypt has struggled to deal with the influx, alternately trying to stop the Palestinians and then allowing them in, before settling into a pattern of controlling the border crossings together with Hamas security men and restricting visitors to Rafah border town.
By Wednesday, Palestinians had disappeared from the streets of El-Arish city, some 35 kilometers (22 miles) way as police patrolled the streets, stopping any suspected Palestinians and ordering them back to Rafah.
Checkpoints looking out for Palestinians filled the roads between El-Arish and Rafah and until late Tuesday, no shipments of supplies were being allow in to encourage Palestinian shoppers to go home.
The Palestinian rivals will hold separate talks with the Egyptian officials in Cairo Wednesday to decide the future border control system, with everyone save Hamas calling for a return to 2005 international agreement that would involve the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the European Union.