Hamas Wounds 46 Egyptian Patrol
Hamas Wounds 46 Egyptian Patrol Guards at Rafah, Al-Ahram Says
By Mahmoud Kassem
Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Militants belonging to the Palestinian party of Hamas wounded 46 Egyptian patrol guards at the border town of Rafah between Egypt and Gaza, Al-Ahram newspaper reported, citing Agence France Presse.
Groups of armed militants had a firefight with the Egyptian border patrol while trying to open a section of the barrier between Egypt and Gaza, the state-owned Cairo-based newspaper reported.
To contact the reporter on this story: Mahmoud Kassem in Cairo atLast Updated: February 5, 2008 04:41 EST .
From tip line, thanks Sab
Very touchy sit.
After the towering border wall slicing through Rafah was toppled earlier this week, long-separated relatives, friends and even former soccer buddies just had to walk a few yards to embrace and reminisce.
Some even dared to make plans for an uncertain future: One large Palestinian clan quickly married off four women to relatives on the Egyptian side. "How can we leave the other side? We were always one place," said Kamal al-Nahal, 40, an uncle of one of the brides.
But almost three decades of separation have also produced marked differences in customs, building styles and dialect. Al-Nahal said he wasn't exactly impressed with Egyptian Rafah which, with mudbrick buildings and unpaved streets, has more of a village feel than its larger, bustling counterpart of multistory apartment buildings on the Gaza side.
About 40,000 people live on the Egyptian side and about 200,000 in Gaza's Rafah, which includes both the original town and an adjacent refugee camp. Those on the Egyptian side are mostly of Palestinian origin, but their Arabic often has more of an Egyptian dialect.
Rafah was bisected in 1982 to accommodate land claims negotiated as part of the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement. While suddenly holding different citizenship, residents of both sectors could cross the border with relative ease for several years.
However, travel became increasingly difficult as Israeli-Palestinian fighting intensified. During the second Palestinian uprising, which erupted in 2000, Gazan Rafah became one of the bloodiest flashpoints of violence, with gunmen often exchanging fire with Israeli troops patrolling the Gaza-Egypt border.
Israeli troops razed hundreds of Rafah homes to widen the patrol road and erected a tall wall — the one toppled Wednesday — as cover against ambushes.
The border breach was engineered by the Islamic militant Hamas to pressure Egypt to negotiate new border arrangements. Both Israel and Egypt had kept Gaza largely sealed in the past two years, especially since Hamas violently seized the territory in June.
At least 38 members of the Egyptian security forces have been hurt in confrontations on the border in recent days, Egypt said. On Saturday, Egyptian riot police and armored vehicles blocked Gazan cars from moving beyond Egyptian Rafah, but the border remained otherwise open.
Even during years of separation, the two sides of Rafah had long stayed connected through underground smuggling tunnels ferrying cigarettes, weapons and other contraband.
After the fall of the border wall, much of that trade went above ground.
Huge crowds of Gazans have descended on Egyptian Rafah, buying just about everything on offer, from crates of Coke to cement and motorcycles, and some shops have closed for lack of wares.
Many came in search of friends and relatives.
Bassem el-Akhras, 45, a nurse in the Palestinian Health Ministry, used to play in a local Rafah soccer team before the 1982 split. On Saturday, he tracked down the team's former striker, Walid Hosni, 47, in Egyptian Rafah, and the two sat on chairs outside Hosni's grocery.
"It was the best day ever, that we were able to break (through) the wall and get together again with our friends," said Hosni, who coaches the local high school soccer team.
El-Akhras also reconnected with six brothers and sisters in Egyptian Rafah whom he hadn't seen for 11 years, and paid respects at his father's grave. El-Akhras said his father died a year ago on the Egyptian side, and that he was unable to attend the funeral.
"The blockade we were under was unbearable, and this is a chance to breathe," he said.
The al-Nahal clan, which has members on both sides of the border, seized a chance to celebrate three weddings after the border breach, two of them Friday. Four women from the clan were engaged to relatives on the Egyptian side, some for as long as two years, but the weddings had been put off in hopes of having guests from both sides of the border attend.
Abdel Rahman Abu Jezer, 65, a farmer from Gazan Rafah, was also hatching matrimonial plots.
With his 17-year-old veiled granddaughter in tow, he walked to the Egyptian side of town Saturday to visit relatives. "Maybe this will be the bride for my nephew (in Egypt)," he said, referring to his granddaughter.
Like el-Akhras, he had been separated from siblings for years. He said he is grateful to Hamas for breaking down the border wall, and hopes Egypt will not reseal the crossing.
"When they started dividing (Rafah), I felt like a knife has cut part of my body," he said. "I only now feel that my wound is starting to heal."
Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from both sides of Rafah.