RAFAH, Egypt (AP) – Hamas militants joined Egyptian forces for a second day Monday in trying to restore control at three breaches in the Gaza border, building a chain-link fence to seal off one opening and directing traffic at two others.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have flooded into Egypt unchecked last week since Hamas militants blasted holes in the border partition in an attempt to puncture an ongoing Israeli blockade. Since then, Palestinians have been voraciously buying up food, fuel and other goods made scarce by Israeli and Egyptian closures of Gaza’s borders.
Hamas seized control of the Palestinian territory in June, but before the breach, it had no role in policing the border with Egypt. Now the Islamic militant group is hoping that will change and is pressing for some kind of future role in border administration.
At a meeting in Cairo, Arab government officials were forceful in their opposition to that idea.
Egypt and the foreign ministers of the Arab League have firmly backed the Palestinian Authority led by moderate President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah in its power struggle against rival Hamas. They have called for a return to a 2005 international border monitoring agreement that excluded the Islamist organization entirely.
“They (Hamas) should not interfere. They should just simply get out of the way and allow this to happen,” Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said.
In the divided town of Rafah, however, Hamas forces were very much in control.
“There has been continuous and direct cooperation with Egyptian security officials over the last couple of days,” a Hamas security official said.
“They asked us to only allow trucks to enter and not civilian cars to make the operation as orderly as possible.”
Traffic was still chaotic on the Egyptian side as more Palestinians poured in to snap up whatever goods they could find.
Food and fuel were in short supply in Gaza since Israel, responding to growing rocket attacks from Gaza, sealed its border days before the militants blasted open the Egyptian frontier further to the south.
The Egyptians deployed about 100 riot police at the two remaining openings Monday.
“Egypt intends to gradually regain control of its border with Gaza and bring the situation back to an acceptable form,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a message to European countries and the United States.