- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Scores of Palestinians crossed from the Gaza Strip into Egypt yesterday evening before Egyptian security forces moved to close the border in an attempt to restore order three days after Israel left the territory.

The frontier was still porous hours after the clampdown, however, with about a dozen Egyptian police pushing back Palestinians scaling the concrete wall on the Gaza side and trying to sneak through the barbed-wire fence on the Egyptian side. Hundreds of Egyptian border guards were expected this morning to enforce the closure in earnest.

Palestinian security forces in Gaza apparently were doing little to stop infiltrators, and earlier yesterday, Hamas militants — unhindered by Palestinian police — blew a hole in the Gaza barrier, making it even easier for people to reach the Egyptian fence.

Elsewhere in Gaza, a militant disrupted a celebratory rally at an abandoned Jewish settlement, grabbing a microphone from a rap singer. He was led away by police firing into the air. No one was injured.

Imposing security in unruly Gaza is seen as the key test of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ government. Earlier yesterday, one of his top aides announced what he said was a new plan of action — including a demand that armed groups disband immediately after parliamentary elections in January.

Hamas reiterated that it would not disarm, and Palestinian officials cautioned that they will not risk civil war, despite intense international pressure to confront militants.

Mr. Abbas’ security forces largely have displayed weakness since the Israeli withdrawal. By contrast, Hamas brought tens of thousands into Gaza City’s main square late Tuesday — the first day Palestinians controlled Gaza — for the biggest rally here by the Islamic militant group.

Mr. Abbas stayed away from an official celebration that he had scheduled for yesterday near the ruins of the Neve Dekalim settlement. An aide said he was concerned about gunmen.

The rally had been billed as a show of Palestinian unity, but most factions stayed away. Hamas scheduled another rally for tomorrow.

At the border yesterday, Egyptian police arrived about an hour after the 6 p.m. deadline. A senior officer bellowed into a bullhorn, telling Palestinians to stop entering Egypt and prepare to return to Gaza.

“I don’t care about the closure; we can get in and out anytime we want,” Palestinian university student Khaled al-Massari said after crossing from Gaza after the deadline.

Egypt also said yesterday that its border guards found an arms-smuggling tunnel under the Gaza border in the al-Duhniya area, 2 miles south of the Rafah crossing point.

The tunnel, found Tuesday evening, contained 38 firearms and three rocket-propelled grenades, a security official said. It extended to the Palestinian side of the frontier, and Palestinian security forces seized the weapons yesterday, the official said.


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