RAFAH, Egypt (AP) – Egyptian troops allowed elated Palestinians to flood across the border from Gaza for a second day yesterday, heightening Israeli concerns that the crossing will become more porous and allow weapons to make their way to militants.
Palestinian and Egyptian commanders decided to close the Gaza-Egypt border by evening today, said Jamal Kaed, the Palestinian security commander of southern Gaza.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said in a televised speech later yesterday that he would take immediate steps to impose order in chaotic Gaza.
Security forces have failed to prevent scavenging and looting of abandoned Israeli settlements, including key greenhouses that were bought for the Palestinians by Jewish donors for $14 million.
“We have one law for everyone and no one is above the law. We are not going to tolerate chaos after today,” Abbas said, although he did not say how his security forces would improve their performance. As Abbas spoke, hundreds of Hamas gunmen paraded through the streets of the nearby Jebaliya refugee camp.
Gazans have gone on a shopping spree in Egyptian towns since the Israeli withdrawal, hauling home suitcases and boxes full of cheap cigarettes, food, fish and other goods.
Others searched out relatives they haven’t seen for years in Rafah, which is divided in two by the border. Some Gazans went as far as el-Arish, 24 miles west of Rafah, and were seen dining at seaside restaurants in the Mediterranean town.
Israeli forces withdrew from the border early Monday, ending their 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip.
Under a deal with Israel, Egypt deployed hundreds of troops to guard the border and prevent smuggling into Gaza.
Thousands of Palestinians clambered over the walls along the border Monday and continued to move back and forth freely yesterday.
Egyptian forces said they were temporarily opening the frontier to allow the Palestinians to celebrate and reunite with relatives.
Kaed said Palestinian security forces will start preparations to close the crossing by evening today, setting up roadblocks near the border to prevent cars from reaching the area. A Palestinian bulldozer tried to fill a gap in the high wall that Gazans had been slipping through.
Closing off all the side routes that Palestinians have found in the past two days may prove difficult.
Gazans and Egyptians went back and forth without records, making it ever harder to sort out who belongs on what side of the border.
Zalman Shoval, a foreign policy adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Egypt’s failure to stop the border crossings was a cause of concern.
“One would like to hope that what happened there was just a one-time failure by the Egyptian troops to do what is expected of them.
But if this continues Israel will have to ask the multinational force (in the Sinai) to be a great deal more active in supervising the Egyptian compliance in the commitment it made with Israel,” he said.
“The great danger is that both people and arms could be smuggled under the unwatchful eyes of the Egyptians – that was the whole purpose of coming to this agreement,” Shoval said.