Hamas protests Egypt bid to seal border
By DIAA HADID, AP, Jan. 1, 2008
RAFAH, Gaza Strip - Hamas militants on Friday hauled away metal spikes that Egyptian soldiers had placed at sections of the Gaza-Egypt border, defying attempts to reseal the frontier and stop the influx of blockade-weary Gazans.
Ever since Hamas-allied militants toppled the border wall Jan. 23 with a series of explosions, Hamas militants have stopped several attempts by Egypt to reseal the frontier. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have rushed into Egypt, shopping and visiting relatives, but most have returned to Gaza.
It remains unclear whether Gaza's Hamas rulers will use force to keep the border open. They want a role in running the border with Egypt, a demand rejected this week by Egypt and Hamas' rival, moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said he would not allow the border to be resealed.
"The Palestinian people have many options," Haniyeh was quoted as telling the pro-Hamas daily Palestine in an interview Friday. He did not elaborate.
Last month's border breach came several days after Israel had imposed a complete blockade on Gaza, with Egyptian backing, in response to a rocket barrage from Gaza on Israeli border towns. For the past seven months, since Hamas' takeover of Gaza, Israel and Egypt have severely restricted access to the territory.
On Friday, about 600 Hamas supporters rallied about 100 yards from the nearest Egyptian border post. One banner read: "Egypt and Palestine are one people, not two." A protester shouted, "Keep the border open."
Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas hard-liner, told the crowd that "we will not return to the siege," and accused the Abbas government of working for the interest of Israel.
Some protesters jumped over metal barriers into Egypt, raising Hamas flags there. Dozens of Egyptian border guards watched, but did not intervene.
Hamas militants dragged away metal spikes that had been placed at the main breach in the 7-mile-long border earlier in the day by Egyptian soldiers in an attempt to block vehicles. The soldiers, who have been avoiding confrontation with Hamas, continued to allow pedestrians to cross over freely.
Several hours after the spikes were removed, dozens of vehicles were lined up on either side of the frontier, trying to negotiate their way through a narrow, muddy breach.
Egypt and Abbas have proposed returning to an internationally backed arrangement for the Gaza-Egypt border that would shut out Hamas and grant Israel the final say over operations there. The arrangement was negotiated in 2005, after Israel's pullout from Gaza. However, the border has been closed for long stretches since then, including in response to the Hamas takeover.
Egyptian security forces were looking for four Palestinians on Friday who slipped into the country from Gaza and were suspected of planning suicide attacks against resorts in the Sinai Peninsula, a local security official said.
The search follows the arrests of 15 Palestinians over the past few days who were caught carrying weapons and explosives in remote parts of the vast desert peninsula between the Gaza border and Cairo.
Twelve arrested were members of Hamas, said a senior intelligence officer in northern Sinai, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Israel warned its citizens last week not to visit Sinai.
Associated Press Writer Ashraf Sweilam in El-Arish, Egypt, contributed to this report.