Palestinians Buy Supplies in Egypt After Wall Breach

Palestinians from Gaza carry goods they bought in Egypt. i i

Palestinians from the Gaza Strip carry goods they bought on the Egyptian side of the divided town of Rafah. Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinians from Gaza carry goods they bought in Egypt.

Palestinians from the Gaza Strip carry goods they bought on the Egyptian side of the divided town of Rafah.

Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinian shoppers cross into Egypt. i i

Palestinian shoppers cross into Egypt after militants destroyed parts of the barricade on the border with Gaza. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinian shoppers cross into Egypt.

Palestinian shoppers cross into Egypt after militants destroyed parts of the barricade on the border with Gaza.

Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
Elated Palestinians from the Gaza Strip cross the Rafah border. i i

Elated Palestinians from the Gaza Strip cross the Rafah border into Egypt over a barrier destroyed by militants. Abid Katib/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Abid Katib/Getty Images
Elated Palestinians from the Gaza Strip cross the Rafah border.

Elated Palestinians from the Gaza Strip cross the Rafah border into Egypt over a barrier destroyed by militants.

Abid Katib/Getty Images

Tens of thousands of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip poured over the border into Egypt on Wednesday after militants toppled huge stretches of the seven-mile-long barricade in the divided border town of Rafah. They swarmed into Egyptian towns to buy supplies that have become scarce or too costly after months of a tight Israeli blockade of the Hamas-controlled area.

The jubilant Gazans came by foot, taxi, bus and donkey cart to cross the destroyed border fence and visit relatives or stock up on consumer goods and food before returning to Gaza.

Boys and men loaded the carts with big boxes of cheese, olive oil, jugs of cooking oil, cartons of cigarettes, new tires and 100-pound bags of Egyptian cement.

Umm Fahdi, 40, a mother of five, was crossing into Egypt with her 11-year-old son to visit friends near the city of El-Arish.

"Let us live, let us live," she said. "We're human and we want to live. We've been choked, choked! Tell the Jews to leave us alone and give us mercy, and let the whole world look at how we are living!"

In what was apparently a long and well-planned demolition, locals said unknown militants began using blow torches to cut away parts of the metal border fence several days ago. On Tuesday night, militants used explosives, blow torches and heavy equipment to methodically topple most of the seven-mile-long metal and cement barricade.

At the border, Umm Mohammed stacked some eight suitcases stuffed with clothes and household goods on a wobbly donkey cart. The 40-year-old mother of four said she has been trapped in Egypt for nearly seven months — since last June's Palestinian civil war — unable to go home until Wednesday.

"I'm so happy after suffering and being so tired for so long," she said. "We did not believe the crossing had really opened."

For many in Gaza, it amounted to a giant, frenzied shopping trip. Families and businessmen stocked up on items that have grown harder to find and more expensive since the militant Islamist group Hamas won elections in the Palestinian territories two years ago. Things got even worse after Hamas violently ousted rival Fatah in Gaza last June, prompting Israel to further seal its borders.

Naim Hijazi held two new electric heaters under his arms and tried to flag down a donkey cart or taxi to help him transport a new washing machine he had just purchased.

"It's gold!" he said. "I'm very happy, thanks to God, because we didn't have enough food, drinks, we didn't have electronics, nothing!"

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Aryeh Mekel said Israel "looks to Egypt to solve the problem" and to live up to its signed agreements to control the border. He voiced concern that militants could now more easily smuggle in weapons and explosives.

"Anyone can enter now," Mekel said.

Ahmed Yussif, a senior member of Hamas, said that "today is like paradise" and predicted the border would remain open for at least three days.

Near the destroyed border crossing, members of Hamas' Executive Force militia tried to control the chaotic traffic. Most Egyptian soldiers just stood aside, smiled and let the crowd of people pass through.

"They say welcome, but don't do any problem for anyone. Just go and buy anything!" said Gaza resident Mohammed Zorro, 23.

John Ging, Gaza director of the United Nations' refugee agency — which provides food relief for more than 1 million of Gaza's 1.5 million residents — says a recent partial shipment from Israel of industrial fuel for Gaza's power plant eases the crisis a little. But he calls Wednesday's breach pathetic and a sign of desperation.

"We've been teetering on the brink here for the last seven months, and before that we already had a very desperate and miserable existence for the population here in terms of food, medicine, electricity, water, sanitation," he said. "It's all teetering on the brink."

Palestinians say they are not sure if what they are experiencing is just a one-day shopping spree or an end to what they call the siege by Israel. In any event, it will be a huge effort to restore any semblance of security or rebuild the wall.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.