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Authorities imposed an indefinite curfew on Egypt's border town of Rafah Thursday following unconfirmed reports that Palestinian gunmen planned to blow up a border wall to allow thousands of Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side to return home, a police official said.
Thousands of police and security forces also were deployed at Rafah and roads leading to the town were sealed off, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
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Stores and eateries at the town were ordered to close, he said.
On the Gaza side of the Rafah border, around 2,000 Palestinians from different militant factions protested to demand Egypt let through the Gazans stranded in Egypt. There were no signs to suggest they planned acts of violence.
"This crossing must be opened," said Salah Hassanen, a local leader from Islamic Jihad, one of the groups organizing the protest. "It's a Palestinian crossing. Our people, our relatives are dying on the other side."
Waving flags and banners reading "Open the crossing" and "Rafah is our only gateway," the protesters requested the crossing be opened and complained of health problem among relatives stuck on the other side.
Egypt has been troubled by the unrest on its border with the volatile Gaza Strip, acting tough on security but uncertain whether that would be enough to prevent lawlessness on its eastern frontier.
Some 6,000 Palestinians have been waiting to cross into Gaza since the border was closed June 9, many without adequate food, water or shelter.
According to Egypt's Middle East News Agency, at least two Palestinians died while waiting to cross back into Gaza, including a 27-year-old woman who died Tuesday after spending more than 40 days on the border. She suffered from cancer and was in Egypt for treatment.
Some 30,000 more Palestinians are thought to be waiting in other Egyptian cities.
Egyptian officials have expressed support for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in his power struggle with the Hamas. They said the Rafah crossing would not be reopened anytime soon, arguing that Egypt remained committed to a US-sponsored agreement worked out after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 that requires EU monitors in place for the crossing to be open.
The EU scaled back its monitoring mission after the violence erupted in Gaza.
Israel has proposed opening a crossing it controls for the stranded Palestinians to return home, but Hamas rejected the offer, citing fears that the travelers who could include Hamas activists would be arrested by the IDF.