01/24/2008, 00.00
EGYPT – ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Egypt blocks Palestinian ‘exodus’ in Rafah

Since yesterday Egypt’s border police has allowed some 350,000 Gazans to reach Rafah driven by the need to buy food and fuel. Ordered by Egyptian President Mubarack, police is today stopping cars and people illegally coming through the breaks in the border wall. In Israel the country’s High Court is asked to hear a petition presented by some associations who want the blockade lifted.

Rafah (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Egyptian security forces are stopping hundreds of Palestinian cars who for the second time in as many days are trying to cross the border through the blown-out wall in search of food, medicines and fuel. The net effect has been that tensions have gradually risen since this morning with brawls and scuffles breaking out between Egyptian border police and “fleeing” Gazans.

According to the United Nations, more than 350,000 people have crossed the border since yesterday to enter Egypt after parts of the border wall was destroyed overnight Tuesday. This surge by Palestinians into Rafah to buy essential items to take home was set off by Israel’s recent blockade of the Strip which was dealing a crushing blow to the population.

Initially Egypt remained neutral, allowing Palestinians to cross without hindrance. But now eyewitnesses are saying that Egyptian police are ordering Palestinians to go back to Gaza, beating their cars with truncheons.

This comes after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarack instructed his border police to stop anyone trying to illegally cross the border.

Just a few hours earlier a Foreign Ministry spokesperson had announced that the Rafah crossing would remain open because of the “humanitarian crisis.”

Yesterday Hamas, which rules Gaza, called for an “urgent” meeting with representatives of Egypt and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to study measures for joint control of the border.

But the PNA rejected the proposal accusing the Islamist group of embarrassing the Egyptians with its wall demolition and trying to get Arab support for its own goals.

For his part, Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus-based Hamas leader, appealed to the Arab countries to work toward ending the international boycott of the Hamas government and to lift the siege on the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile some Israeli and Palestinian organisations have filed a petition with Israel’s High Court to end the blockade. For this the tribunal is set to hold a special hearing on Sunday.

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