Egyptian soldiers seal Gaza border

Egyptian security forces closed the border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday nearly two weeks after the wall was first breached.

Gunmen from the Hamas movement, which controls Gaza, appeared to be cooperating with the Egyptians, turning back crowds of Palestinians as barbed wire and metal barricades were installed.

In the past fortnight thousands of Palestinians have crossed back and forth into northern Egypt, shopping for food, medicine, cement and fuel to ease the economic crisis. The UN estimated that as many as 750 000 Palestinians — half of Gaza’s population — had travelled into Egypt, though nearly all have since returned.

Egyptian forces said they would allow Palestinians still in Egypt to return to Gaza. However, it is unclear if the Egyptians will manage to keep the border sealed and more complex questions about the future of the one official crossing between Gaza and Egypt also remain unanswered. Yet Cairo appears reluctant to replace Israel as the principal supply route into Gaza.

Mahmoud Zahar, the most senior Hamas leader in Gaza, was in Cairo on Saturday for talks with Egyptian officials. After the meeting he said Hamas ”will restore control over this border, in cooperation with Egypt, and gradually”. Another Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said he wanted to cut all economic links with Israel. ”Egypt has a greater ability to meet the needs of Gaza,” he said. A similar idea has been floated in the Israeli Cabinet, though there seems little immediate chance that this will become a reality.

Despite the flood of Palestinians into Egypt, there remains concern about the economic crisis in Gaza. On Sunday, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East, Robert Serry, said he was concerned about an Israeli high court ruling last week that rejected challenges to an Israeli government decision to reduce fuel and electricity supplies to Gazans.

”We … reiterate the secretary general’s call on Israel to reconsider and cease its policy of pressuring the civilian population of Gaza for the unacceptable actions of militants and extremists,” he said in a statement. ”Collective penalties are prohibited under international law.” – Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

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