Hamas: 500,000 will march on Erez

Yet Egypt assures Palestinian Authority that it will reseal its border with the Strip in coming days.

Rafah broken wall 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Rafah broken wall 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Egypt has assured the Palestinian Authority that it will reseal its border with the Gaza Strip in the coming days, PA officials in Ramallah said Thursday. Egypt also informed the PA leadership that Cairo would not exclude the PA from any future agreement over controlling the Rafah border crossing, they said. Meanwhile, Hamas threatened to send half a million Palestinians marching toward the Erez border crossing in northern Gaza. "The next time there is a crisis in the Gaza Strip, Israel will have to face half a million Palestinians who will march toward Erez," said Ahmed Youssef, a senior Hamas official. "This is not an imaginary scenario and many Palestinians would be prepared to sacrifice their lives." The PA is concerned that the events at the border with Sinai will boost Hamas's popularity and enable the Islamist movement to smuggle more weapons into the Gaza Strip. The PA is also worried that Egypt will strike a separate deal with Hamas over the Rafah crossing. "The Egyptian government has told us that the situation along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt will return to normal," a senior PA official told The Jerusalem Post. "They said they won't be able to end the chaos in a day or two and this is understandable." The Egyptian message came as tens of thousands of Gazans continued to enter Sinai for a second straight day, after gunmen destroyed large parts of the security wall along the border. Sources in the Strip estimated that at least half a million Palestinians had crossed the border since Wednesday morning. Other sources put the figure at 700,000 - nearly half the population of the Gaza Strip. The Egyptians have rejected the idea of Israel waiving responsibility for the Gaza Strip that was floated by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i. "The border will go back as normal," said Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki, adding that Cairo had not been approached by Israel about a possible change in the status of the Gaza Strip. "The current situation is only an exception and for temporary reasons," he said. A Cairo-based Arab diplomat said the Egyptians were worried that Israel was trying to "export" the problem of the Gaza Strip to Egypt. "The Egyptian regime does not want anything to do with the Gaza Strip," he said. "As far as the Egyptians are concerned, Israel remains the only party responsible for what happens there." Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri said his movement was not interested in turning the Strip into an Egyptian problem. "The Gaza Strip belongs to Palestine, not Egypt," he said. "The Israelis are trying to throw the ball into the Egyptian court. But the Israeli dream will never be fulfilled." On Thursday, Egypt deployed several hundred border guards along the border, preventing pickups and cars from crossing into Sinai. However, the guards, who were equipped with dogs and clubs, did not try to stop civilians from crossing the border on foot. President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday warned the Palestinians against harming Egyptian security forces guarding the border. "We reject attempts to initiate clashes with Egyptian security forces in Rafah," Mubarak said. "We know very well our national security considerations. We won't allow them to compromise on them or harm them." Mubarak called on the various Palestinian factions to end their differences and to work toward improving the situation in Gaza. He also criticized Israel for temporarily suspending fuel supplies to the Strip, sayings such actions were harmful to the peace process.