(VIDEO) Palestinian gunmen set off several explosive devices along concrete wall dividing Palestinian and Egyptian Rafah. Some 350,000 Gazans flock to Sinai, fleeing siege imposed on Strip by Israel; food and equipment begin pouring into Strip. Mubarak: They were starving Ali Waked
VIDEO - Palestinian gunmen affiliated with different organizations set off several explosive devices on Tuesday night along the concrete wall dividing the Palestinian and Egyptian Rafah, after the crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip were closed off.
Thousands of Gaza's residents began pouring into the Sinai Peninsula early Wednesday through the breach created in the wall. Shortly afterwards, Egyptian authorities were forced to open the border. Some 350,000 people had reportedly crossed into Sinai by the afternoon hours.
The forced entry came just hours after a tense stand-off at the Rafah border crossing, where gunfire erupted after a group of Hamas demonstrators forced their way in through the closed crossing. Israeli Fear 'Flour? Terrorists crossing through Rafah' / Hanan Greenberg Defense establishment follows events at Egypt-Gaza crossing with concern: 'The free passage of Palestinians into Egypt and back, without any supervision, significantly increases the threat coming from the Strip' Full story
They had been protesting a months-long Israeli blockade of the impoverished territory that was tightened on Thursday and only partially lifted on Tuesday, with some fuel shipments being allowed in for the first time in four days.
Cries of despair and prayers were heard near the border Wednesday morning. Hamas officials said that the breached border was used to break the Israeli siege and bring food and medicines into the Strip.
"This is a day of celebration," a Hamas member told Ynet.
Many of the refugees arrived at the el-Arish area in Sinai. Some of the people united with their families, some attempted to settle in the area, while other returned home with food and medicines.
Egyptian forces instructed to hold fire
A mass flight from the Strip into the Egyptian territories is considered one of the worst scenarios, as far as Cairo is concerned. So far officers from the Egyptian side of the border had attempted to ward off the wave of refugees.
In Cairo, President Hosni Mubarak declared that he had instructed the Egyptian police forces to hold fire and allow the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians enter the Sinai area.
"They were starving," he told reporters. "I instructed the police to let them come in, purchase food and return later, as long as they are not carrying weapons."
IDF officials fear that the weapon smuggling through the Egyptian border into the Strip, which takes place almost without any disturbance, will now be intensified.
Israeli officials recently criticized the Egyptian government over the ongoing smuggling of weapons from Sinai into the Strip, causing a diplomatic crisis. Mubarak firmly denied the claims, saying that his country was doing all it could to thwart the smuggling.
Those who took advantage of the breached border were Palestinian taxi drivers who earned a pretty penny.
One of the Palestinians told Ynet, "Traveling from the center of Gaza City to the crossing costs NIS 7, but today, because of the passengers' high demand, the cost of the ride was up 100%, to NIS 14. People are willing to pay this sum because they are buying anything available in Rafah."
According to the man, commercial vehicles were being rented out and each family arrived with equipment for weeks or even months, as it is unclear when the Israeli siege would end.
Hamas: Incident won't harm relations with Egypt
Sources in Hamas estimated that the Palestinians would be allowed to cross the border for at least the next 24 hours until order is imposed in the area. A local resident told Ynet, however, that the fence was almost entirely breached and it would be difficult to prevent people from passing through.
Hamas security sources were following the events at the border area, in order to ensure that Fatah members wanted over their activities against the Hamas government would not take advantage of the situation in order to leave the Strip or return to it.
A Hamas official rejected Fatah's claim that the breached border would harm the Palestinians' relations with the Egyptians, saying that the situation eased the lives of the local residents, helped the equip themselves and led to a reduction in the prices of commodities in the Gaza Strip.
Gazans continued to report of a shortage in fuel and basic commodities on Wednesday, despite the fact that several Israeli trucks made their way through the Nahal Oz fuel terminal Tuesday morning, as Israel renewed the diesel and cooking-gas supply to the Gaza power stations.
Hamas officials expressed their satisfaction over the move, but noted that this was a first and insufficient step.
The United Nations Security Council met in an emergency session Tuesday evening in an attempt to pass a resolution which would condemn the Israeli siege and the damage caused to the electricity production in the Strip.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made it clear Tuesday that "Israel will continue to defend its citizens even at the cost of a condemnation."
Meanwhile, after a relatively quiet day, Palestinians reported Tuesday night of an extensive IDF operation inside the Palestinian territory, near the Sufa crossing.
According to the reports, exchanges of fire took place between Hamas gunmen and the Israeli force near the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis. A Hamas member was killed and several were injured. Another Hamas operative was moderately injured in another raid in the northern Strip.
AFP contributed to this report
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