Palestinian gunmen blew holes in the wall separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt early Wednesday and tens of thousands of Palestinians poured across the border to buy supplies to confront the Israeli blockade of the coastal territory.
Egyptian guards and police from Hamas stood by without doing anything.
According to the AP, before dawn, Palestinian gunmen started breaching the border wall dividing the town of Rafah, which has a Gazan and an Egyptian side. Hamas voiced support for the move, saying, "Blowing up the border wall with Egypt is a reflection of the ... catastrophic situation which the Palestinian people in Gaza are living through due to the blockade."
However, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri denied that Hamas was involved, but said: "It was impossible to prevent the bombing of the border" which reflected the huge pressures on Palestinians under closure in Gaza.
Hamas security closed all but two of the holes, through which it allowed free movement. Gazans began crossing into Egypt and returning with milk, cigarettes and plastic bottles of fuel. Eyewitnesses said that tens of Palestinians who were stranded at the Egyptian side of the border for months were able to return to Gaza Strip without any obstacles.
Commenting on the situation, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said on Wednesday he had ordered security forces to let people in from Gaza Strip just to buy food, but said rival Palestinian factions needed to reach agreement to allow a permanent solution for the coastal territory. Mubarak's remarks were the first indication from the Egyptian authorities on how they intend to handle the influx of the Palestinians. "I told them: 'Let them come in to eat and buy food, then they go back, as long as they are not carrying weapons," Mubarak told reporters at a Cairo book fair.
According to Reuters, Mubarak said that for a permanent solution for the Strip the two Palestinian movements, Fatah and Hamas, needed to reach their own agreement. "But if we speak to one Palestinian party we find the other party gets angry. If we ask them to negotiate without preconditions, some of them get angry," he said.
"There are many problems between them but I do not want to get into the details," Mubarak added.
He said Egypt did not intend to withdraw its ambassador from Israel in protest at the blockade of Gaza. "If that happened, I wouldn't be able to talk to the Israelis. One has to be reasonable in such matters," he added.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said earlier that the Egyptian authorities planned to "contain" the situation on the Gaza border and were holding inter-agency consultations on how to achieve that objective.
Meanwhile, in a clash early Wednesday with Israeli forces near the closed Sufa crossing into Gaza, a Hamas man was killed, Palestinian officials said. The Israeli military said troops exchanged fire with Palestinian gunmen in the area.