On Wednesday, Palestinian gunmen used land mines to blast a border wall so Gazans could escape an Israeli blockade imposed last week that made food, fuel and other staples hard to come by. Tens of thousands of Gazans have rushed into Egypt without any border controls, news agencies reported.
Egyptian police worked to enforce some order on the Palestinian crowds Thursday and Hamas gunmen also were visible on the Gaza side of the crossing, doing random checks for possible smuggled weapons, the New York Times reported.
Israel imposed the blockade to try to pressure Palestinian militants to stop rocket attacks on southern Israeli border guards.
The free flow of Gazans over the border has stoked new tensions between Israel and Egypt over Cairo’s response to the blown border wall.
Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai caused a stir Thursday when he said Israel gradually wants to relinquish responsibility for Gaza now that the border wall with Egypt has been blown apart, the Associated Press reported.
Egyptian officials sharply rejected the Israeli ideas and said they would not change border arrangements.
“The border will go back as normal,” Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said, adding that Egypt had not been approached by Israel about a possible change in the status of Gaza.
Egypt has largely kept its border with Gaza closed since Hamas took over control of the area — largely due to concerns that Hamas-style militancy could spill over into Egypt.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking to the AP on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, did not echo Vilnai’s remarks.
“I don’t go too far in my interpretation of this,” Barak said.
Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but has continued to provide sporadic electricity and other essentials to the area, and monitored a European Union team supervising entrances to the territory.
Rulers from the militant-led group Hamas took over control of Gaza in June amid a rift with the more moderate leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In January 2006, Hamas gained control of the Palestinian Authority after participating in parliamentary elections for the first time and winning 76 of 132 seats.
Some Palestinian travelers in the Egyptian town of El Arish, about 15 miles from the border, told news agencies they were told by local police they should start making their way back if they had no urgent business in the city, signaling that authorities were trying to start resealing the border.
“The Egyptians started doing good deeds by letting us in. For God’s sake, why don’t they keep allowing us to pass through?” Mohammed Abu Amra, a Palestinian walking across the border on crutches, told the AP. “Everyone is rushing into Egypt before they seal it off.”