- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2008


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — For Egyptian troops, the breaching of the Gaza border wall last week was a security nightmare. But for Emran Labbad and dozens of other Gazans, it was an opportunity to revive marriage plans that long had seemed doomed.

The 33-year-old filmmaker fell in love with Hiba, a young Palestinian refugee, two years ago during a visit to Cairo. On receiving her father’s permission to marry, he returned home to Gaza to prepare for the wedding.

Shortly after, the Rafah border crossing was sealed in response to the capture of an Israeli soldier, and the couple’s plans to marry were postponed indefinitely.

Until last week, that is, when Hamas militants blew a hole in the corrugated iron wall and families from both sides streamed across for joyous reunions. Among the estimated 750,000 people who crossed the border in both directions was Hiba, 25, who finally made her way to Gaza, to the delight of her fiance.

“I spent all day waiting and thinking and praying she would arrive,” said a grinning Mr. Labbad.

During the couple’s enforced separation, friends advised him to look elsewhere for a wife, but he refused to give up hope. “Many people said I should choose another girl, but this was not easy for me. Sometimes, you have a feeling,” he said.

The two kept in touch by phone, and he contemplated smuggling Hiba through a network of underground tunnels connecting the two sides. Now they plan to marry in two weeks.

They are not alone. On Friday night, the streets of Gaza City were alive with the sounds of wedding celebrations, all the more festive for the temporary availability of food and fuel.

Dozens of cars streaming back from the Rafah border had mattresses strapped to their roofs; the absence of such items from Gaza’s shops had caused some young couples to postpone their wedding plans.

Now Hiba, whose surname is also Labbad, is preparing excitedly for her wedding, even though she knows that if the border closes again, it may be months or years before she sees her own family.

“I hope the border will be open and there will be visits with our family in Egypt,” she said. “But I have decided to marry in Gaza and I will face all the difficulties with my groom.”

The wall fell after an Israeli blockade of fuel and humanitarian aid into Gaza that lasted almost a week. Egyptian soldiers armed with riot shields, batons and dogs watched helplessly as Palestinians flooded through the breached border.

An attempt to close the gaps Friday failed after Hamas’ armed wing used a bulldozer to push through the cement and barbed wire still restraining some people.

By yesterday, reporters saw only a few Gaza residents crossing into Egypt as supplies of food, fuel and cigarettes on the Egyptian side of the border were exhausted.

“We wanted to buy food. It was very difficult. We could not find anything,” 17-year-old Khalil Hamdan told Reuters news agency. “We won’t come back because all the products are finished.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit was quoted as saying his country would take unspecified steps to control the border with Gaza “as soon as possible.”

Reuters said hundreds of trucks were held up at a bridge that leads from mainland Egypt to the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza.

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