Egypt deports Palestinians back to Gaza

Returning Egyptians interrogated; merchandise still allowed through after inspection.

Rafah broken wall 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Rafah broken wall 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Egypt's border forces on Monday gradually sorted out the muddle of Palestinians and Egyptians trapped on the wrong side of the recently resealed border with the Gaza Strip, closely interrogating over a hundred returning Egyptians. At least 500 Palestinians in the border towns of El-Arish and Rafah were rounded up and deported to Gaza, while searches continued for others illegally hiding out with Egyptian families, said a security official familiar with the operation. At the same time 132 Egyptians were allowed in from Gaza, but closely questioned for having any possible ties with Hamas, added the official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press. Most of the Egyptians said they were just visiting family members on the other side of the divided town of Rafah or selling goods in Gaza where inhabitants have been desperate for consumer products after months of being sealed off by Israel and Egypt. Truckloads of merchandise purchased by Palestinians in Egypt but then stopped on the border for inspection in the final days of the breach were also allowed through. The goods consisted mostly of cigarettes and honey-soaked tobacco smoked in water pipes. In January, Hamas militants blew holes in the border to end the blockade of the Gaza Strip sending hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into Rafah and El-Arish in a largely unmonitored shopping spree. Israeli security services recently announced that long-range rockets, anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons were hauled through the open borders, something confirmed by Palestinian smugglers as well. Clashes between militants and Egyptian security officials as well as accusations that Palestinian militants crossed from Egypt into Israel to carry out attacks soured the relationship with Hamas and resulted in the border's reclosing. Hamas, however, threatened to reopen the border Monday if the blockade on the Gaza Strip was not eased, despite strong warning from Egyptian leaders. "Egypt will not go easy (on Palestinians) when it comes to protecting its borders," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told reporters while flying to the United Arab Emirates Monday. "Egyptian authorities reject any outside pressures on their borders and we will not allow any party to dictate the internal policies of Egypt." Also allowed through the border on Monday was a delegation of five Bahraini parliamentarians who were trapped in Gaza when the borders reclosed as well as 49 Palestinians carrying foreign passports who had just been visiting.