January 31, 2008 / 5:57 PM / in 10 years

Egypt seals gaps in border

ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) - Egypt called in police reinforcements and sealed gaps at the breached border with the Gaza Strip on Thursday.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was in Cairo for talks and a Hamas official said they centered on the “facilitation of movement” and the entry of Palestinians on the border.

A senior Egyptian security official said Egypt had given orders to security men to start taking more restrictive measures and was hoping to minimize friction with Palestinians by implementing an incremental closure of the border.

The official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said there was still no official word on when the border would be completely sealed.

Egyptian forces brought cement and sandbags to seal gaps in the border just over a week after Hamas militants blasted it open to let tens of thousands of Gazans cross to Egypt in defiance of an Israeli-led blockade, witnesses said.

Egypt also started blocking Palestinian vehicles from crossing into Egypt although it was allowing supply-laden Egyptian trucks to enter Gaza to drop off goods, witnesses said.

One security source said around 50,000 Palestinians had crossed into Egypt on Thursday, and another 20,000 were staying with relatives in Rafah and nearby towns.

Egypt was silent on the talks with Meshaal, who Arab media had said was expected to meet Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to discuss restoring order at the Gaza-Egypt frontier.

In Gaza, Hamas official Sami Abu-Zuhri told Reuters: “The first meeting has ended. The discussion concentrated on the facilitation of movement and the entry of Palestinians on the Egyptian-Palestinian border at the current time.”

The two sides were expected to meet again. “It is still early to talk about details,” he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Egypt’s president on the same issue on Wednesday.


Abbas rejected Hamas demands for control of the border and urged the Islamist group on Wednesday to “end its coup” in Gaza, which Hamas seized control of in June.

Abbas has already won U.S., European and Arab backing to take control of the Rafah crossing, to the exclusion of Hamas.

But it is unclear how Abbas, the Fatah leader whose authority is now limited to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, would be able to exert control over Rafah given opposition from Hamas, whose forces have command on the ground.

Hamas has signaled it could prevent Egypt from re-sealing the border unless its own authority there was recognized.

Egypt arrested 15 Hamas militants on Thursday who had managed to slip into its territory with weapons and explosives despite Egyptian warnings not to cross the border with weapons, security sources said.

They said police were looking for four more armed Palestinians believed to have also crossed the border.

The Palestinians had bomb-making equipment including detonators, plastic bags of explosive material, flak jackets, bullets, grenades and guns, the security sources said.

Police allowed 15 trucks carrying aid from the Qatari Red Crescent to enter the Gaza Strip.

In Israel, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) received approval to deliver 12 trucks of humanitarian aid to Gaza on Thursday.

But the trucks were turned away from the Gaza border with no reason given, said UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness, in what he said looked like “a deliberate policy of obstruction”.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Adam Entous in Jerusalem, writing by Aziz El-Kaissouni; editing by Robert Woodward

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