Rafah reopens, 1,000s enter Gaza

IDF troops discover large weapons arsenal in northern Gaza Strip.

gaza map 248 88 (photo credit: )
gaza map 248 88
(photo credit: )
Thousands of Palestinians flocked to this Gaza border crossing on Tuesday when Egypt and Israel reopened it for the first time in three weeks. Most Palestinians were returning to Gaza, and many said they had run out of money and been exhausted by having to wait for weeks on the Egyptian side of the border. "I will never, never, never come to Egypt again because of the pain and suffering I have endured with my wife," said Aboul Khair, 50, a barber who was returning to Khan Younis with his wife. Initially it was said the crossing would be open for one day, but the Israeli Defense Ministry said Tuesday that a decision would be made that night about keeping it open indefinitely. A military spokesman told the Associated Press that the European monitors at Rafah crossing would assess whether the border could remain open. Thousands of Palestinians have been stranded in Egypt since Israel closed the crossing on June 25, after terror organization operatives crossed into Israel and kidnapped an Israeli soldier from a military outpost. News of the opening spread fast on the Egyptian side and the road between Rafah and El-Arish, the biggest town in northern Sinai, was quickly filled with cars and minibuses carrying Palestinians toward the border. About 300 Palestinians crossed into the Gaza Strip in the first hour after the Rafah gates opened. When it became evident that another 5,000 Palestinians were waiting to cross, Egypt waived the fee of 80 Egyptian pounds (US$14) that it normally charges travelers. Dozens of people - children, women and elderly persons - fainted in the heat as they stood in the crowd pressing to enter the crossing's terminal building. Paramedics arrived in five ambulances and began carrying the collapsed people into the terminal. A man who appeared to be in his 80s was pushed into the terminal in a wheelchair. Asked how he felt to be going home, he answered weakly: "Praise be to God." At either end of the terminal, the staff worked efficiently and the line of travelers moved at a steady pace. It took about 20 minutes for a person to cross. On the Palestinian side, troops of the Presidential Guards were deployed to help people carry their luggage from the terminal to waiting buses and cars. But many people could not forget their prolonged, forced stay in Egypt. A Palestinian student, Heba al-Qaysi, 21, said she had run out of money and had been reduced to sleeping under the stars. "I came to Egypt to renew my visa for Saudi Arabia," she said as she waited to cross Tuesday. "I won't ever come back to Egypt after the humiliation we suffered." The crossing was expected to close at 7 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) Tuesday. Last Friday, Hamas operatives on the Gazan side forced open a gate at the crossing, enabling about 600 Palestinians to dash home before security officials managed to reseal the border. The Rafah crossing is the Strip's only gate to the outside world that does not pass through Israel. Thousands of Palestinians live in northern Sinai and have relatives in the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, IDF soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip overnight Monday discovered a large weapons arsenal used by terror groups. During the operations, two soldiers were lightly wounded when shots were fired at the troops by Palestinians. Some 20 Palestinians were wounded in the exchange of fire. While Monday night's operation marked the successful end of the Beit Hanoun operation, the IDF stressed that Operation Summer Rains, intended to combat terrorism in Gaza and secure the release of Shalit, would continue.