February 7, 2008 / 5:48 PM / 12 years ago

Egypt warns Palestinians not to breach Gaza border

(Adds Hamas comments in paragraphs 7 and 8)

CAIRO, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Egypt has warned Palestinians against trying to break through its resealed Gaza border about two weeks after Hamas militants blew it open to defy an Israeli-led blockade.

After allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to cross into the Sinai peninsula last month, Egypt on Sunday closed the border to Palestinians seeking entry.

A day later, one person was killed and dozens more wounded in clashes between Egyptian border guards and Palestinian militants.

Security sources said several thousand Palestinians in Egypt would be returned to Gaza in organised groups.

"Whoever breaks the border line will have his foot broken," Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in comments carried by the state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA) on Thursday.

Aboul Gheit said Egyptian efforts were continuing with Israel and the European Union to re-open the Rafah border crossing "in a legal way", and criticised Hamas for recent fighting with Israel.

Israel has stepped up military action against Hamas since it claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on Monday, the first such attack by the Islamist faction inside the Jewish state since 2004.

On Thursday Israeli troops backed by tanks, helicopter gunships and warplanes killed seven Palestinian militants and a schoolteacher in a raid in the Gaza Strip, militant groups and hospital officials said.

Seven rockets were launched from Gaza on Thursday, the army said. One hit the border town of Sderot, hurting two Israelis.

Aboul Gheit said Hamas rockets "lost in the sands of Israel" were simply giving the Jewish state a chance to strike at Gaza, causing harm to Palestinians.

Hamas, which wants a say in running the Rafah border crossing, said Aboul Gheit’s comments were "unfitting and undiplomatic".

"Hamas is not interested in breaching the border but in opening the border crossings," Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Earlier this week, Aboul Gheit called on Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, to allow Palestinian Authority personnel to oversee the Egypt-Gaza border at Rafah, and warned Gazans not to test Egypt’s patience.

Egypt does not want to be seen as aiding the blockade of Gaza but is under U.S. and Israeli pressure to take control. It also fears the spread of Islamist influence in Egypt.

The Rafah crossing was run by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s forces under EU supervision, with Israeli security agents vetting travellers via video link. Abbas has rejected Hamas demands to help run the crossing.

Egypt shut down its side of the terminal after Hamas’s takeover of Gaza.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Mary Gabriel)

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