Egypt charges 60 Gazans in Rafah riots

Egyptian forces restore calm on Gaza-Egypt border after mobs storm crossing.

Calm was restored to the Egypt-Gaza crossing Thursday, a day after Palestinian gunmen broke through the border wall with tractors, killed two Egyptian troops, and enabled hundreds of civilians to stream across. More than 60 Palestinians have been arrested and charged with illegal entry, Egyptian security officials said Thursday. It was not disclosed whether some of them were suspected of being involved in Wednesday's violence. The Palestinian Authority deployed about 300 police officers at the Rafah border point late Wednesday and restored control, Palestinian security officials said Thursday. The Palestinian and Egyptian security officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media. Egypt had no more than the usual security presence at the crossing Thursday but, a short distance away, 20 police vehicles were parked in the main street of Rafah city, ready to be deployed. Two of the 30 Egyptian border troops who were wounded Wednesday have been flown to Cairo for treatment as their injuries are severe, officials at Cairo airport said Thursday. Egypt "strongly condemned" the actions of "an irresponsible group of Palestinians" at Rafah crossing on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The statement appealed to the Palestinian Authority to ensure there was no reoccurrence, and thanked the Palestinian police for taking steps to restore order at the crossing. The ministry said the riot constituted "unwarranted and unprecedented violence" that not only harmed the Palestinians, but also "weakened efforts to support the Palestinian people in their efforts to establish an independent state." During the riot, armed gunmen stole two heavy tractors and used them to break through the border wall separating Gaza and Egypt. Gen. Essam el-Sheikh of the security forces in North Sinai said the militants fired automatic weapons and shotguns, forcing Egyptian troops to pull back one kilometer from the border. The gunmen belonged to the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent offshoot of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party, and were demonstrating their defiance of the Palestinian Authority's attempts to curb them. Their actions underscored the growing lawlessness in Gaza. Abbas has been unable to impose order, and this is expected to harm Fatah's prospects in January 25 parliamentary elections. After the border wall was breached, hundreds of Egyptians and Palestinians crossed the frontier in either direction.