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French Version

Escape from Gaza

Gazans once more managed to attract the world's media attention today with a spectacular breakout followed by a collective shopping spree in Egypt.

Menassat, Here's what's happening in Arab media.
R.R. / Illustration by arabimages.com

GAZA CITY, Jan. 23, 2008 (MENASSAT.COM) – Gaza’s streets seemed unusually empty of people and vehicles yesterday, after tens of thousands of Gazans crossed the borders between the Palestinian Territories and Egypt, taking opportunity of a breach in the border wall caused by explosives.

As many as 50,000 people streamed through the hole, which grew bigger and bigger until three quarters of the metal separation between the Gaza Strip and Egypt was flattened. In the end, bulldozers were called in to help clear the way.

Once across, the Palestinians made their way to nearby Egyptian cities, especially Rafah and Arish, to stock up on medical and food supplies which have been badly missing from Gaza's markets due to the economic blockade imposed by Israel after Hamas took over the strip in June 2007. The Egyptian security forces did nothing to stop the Palestinians from entering Egypt.

It is only the second time that Gaza Palestinians passed into Egypt in significant numbers; the last time was in 2005 when Israel gave up control of the Gaza Strip, and the Rafah crossing was reopened. After the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit on June 25, 2006, Israel once more resorted to closing the crossing "for security reasons."

Mahmoud Khazandar, 53, a food vendor, said he went to the border the second he heard about the hole in the wall. "I took all the money I could gather in order to stock up on food supplies that the market needs."

It didn't take long before the effect of the cross-border shopping spree were noticeable on Gaza's markets.

Said Ramadan, a vendor from Rafah in Gaza, said "the first result was a decrease in the price of cigarettes," which had reached astronomical levels due to the blockade. Ramadan said he brought $3,000 worth of cigarettes back from Egypt.

Accordingly, the price of cigarettes in the Egyptian cities of Rafah and Arish went up by fifty percent due to the increased demand.

Salim Abu Hassan brought back ten sheep from the Egyptian city of Zoueid for half the price in Gaza, and he was planning to go back for a hundred more tomorrow. "This is a major opportunity for us", Abu Hassan said, "both psychologically and economically. We can start working now, slowly, towards ending the blockade."

Abu Hassan welcomed the attitude of the Egyptian security forces saying, "The Egyptians are showing great understanding to the suffering of our people, and they had received orders to treat the people nicely, after they had suffered enough of the blockade suffocating Gaza."

Egyptian-Palestinian talks

Indeed, Egyptian President Husni Mubarak declared that he asked the Egyptian security forces to allow the Palestinians from Gaza to enter Egypt to buy the goods they needed, "as long as they don’t carry weapons."

Speaking after the opening of the Cairo International Book Fair, Mubarak said, "Many Palestinians from Gaza returned this Wednesday because they suffered from hunger due of the blockade."

Today's break-out might lead to official talks about a more organized reopening of Rafah and other crossings.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said on Wednesday that he is ready to have "an extraordinary session with the Egyptians and the Palestinians in Ramallah," to discuss the issue.

But Mubarak also cautioned the Palestinians, saying, "The first condition for a permanent solution would be for the Palestinians to put an end to their internal struggle."

Human rights organizations also used the media limelight provided by the break-out to once more highlight the suffering of the people in Gaza under the economic blockade.

The "Damir" (Conscience) association for human rights in Gaza asked the Egyptian government, and president Mubarak, to officially open the Rafah crossing permanently, in order to allow Gazans to travel freely, especially the sick, and those holding an Egyptian passport or student visas.

The association pointed out that Egypt has been a signatory to the Geneva Accords about the protection of civilians since 1949. "International law requires the opening of the borders when some people are victims of war and the civilian population is in danger. The Egyptian government therefore has all the legal and moral reasons to reopen the Rafah crossing without waiting for the approval of any party."

Despite the joyful and happy spirit in Gaza, there was also fear and apprehension that Israel might halt delivery of fuel supplies to Gaza again in retaliation for the border incident. Gaza was plunged into darkness after Israel cut off its fuel supply in retaliation for rocket attacks on Israel; fuel delivery was only resumed on Tuesday after an international uproar.

Samira Abu Khaled said she was afraid that Israel might once again occupy the Salah Eddine and Rafah crossings. "We can only hope that the Egyptians and the Palestinians will find a solution to the crossing issue on their own, without intervention from Israel."

A spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, also warned of deteriorating conditions in Gaza. UNRWA welcomed Israel's decision to allow fuel to be delivered to Gaza on Tuesday, but it warned that this was not enough and that Gaza needs a permanent opening of the Rafah crossing for people and goods.

UNRWA had previously threatened to stop all its operations in Gaza if Israel doesn’t allow fuel delivery to the strip.

Marseille,02 01 2008
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