Hamas Celebrates Wall Breach; Egypt Sends Guards
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep with Renee Montagne.
Egyptian police in riot gear tried to shut the border with the Gaza strip today. This is the border that was blown open by explosives, knocking a wall down earlier this week. The effort to shut that border didn't work. Palestinian militants in bulldozers have smashed new holes in the chain and concrete fence. Crowds of Palestinians cheered as that fence collapsed and now they're pushing across, once again, into Egypt. This is a scene much like the one three days ago when militants first struck and tens of thousands of residents crossed over to stock up on supplies. The destruction of wall was a big political victory for Hamas, the Islamist group that governs the Gaza strip. But the triumph may be short, as NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from Gaza.
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ERIC WESTERVELT: Hamas worked quickly to take advantage of the euphoria over the border opening. Thursday afternoon, Hamas militia men help shepherd into Gaza huge truckloads of Egyptian sugar and cement - items that have become expensive and scarce here in recent months. How they ever really closed the border, Mahmoud Abonisham(ph) asks, adding more than half the population of Gaza is already in Egypt. The portly Gaza truck driver is only mildly exaggerating. His big flatbed truck is loaded down with new Egyptian furniture he'll sell in Gaza.
Mr. MAHMOUD ABONISHAM (Truck Driver): (Through translator) We loved it. We hope this is the end of the siege. But we don't want - we don't like to be a part of Egypt. We want to be independent.
WESTERVELT: With perhaps overstated optimism, Hamas political figures here called the temporarily open border the beginning of the end of Gaza's isolation.
Mr. AHMED YOUSEF (Political Adviser; Senior Hamas Official): Actually, it's more than just looking for medical or food supplies. It's something like a sense of relief, sense of freedom.
WESTERVELT: Ahmed Yousef is a senior Hamas official and the political adviser to Hamas' Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh. Yousef predicts the toppled border wall will create a new political dynamic for Gaza and serve as a potent blow to Israeli and American policy.
Mr. YOUSEF: The first step; to lift the embargo and the fear(ph) for Olmert-Bush(ph) policy - actually, to break the will of the Palestinian people. It's like a moral victory for - not just for the Palestinian, even for Hamas, that the movement, the government, that they stood fast.
WESTERVELT: Yousef says Hamas now hopes to hold talks with Egypt on a new arrangement for controlling the southern border and, he says, to open a new dialogue with the West Bank Palestinian leadership that Hamas violently ousted from Gaza last summer.
Mr. YOUSEF: Once we start talking about solving the passage with Egypt issue, it's going to be open the door for the rest of the issues.
WESTERVELT: But so far, the West Bank leadership has been icy cold to any rapprochement with Hamas. The border breech gives Israel an opportunity, as one official said, to really disengage from Gaza and let Egypt take responsibility. But it also badly weakens Israel's attempt to isolate Hamas and pressure militants into halting rocket fire into Israel.
The temporarily opened border is likely to provide Hamas political cover and renewed strength. But it does nothing to ease Gaza's deeper woes. Gaza's economy and infrastructure are in shambles. The lone power plant, which was built to supply almost half of Gaza's needs, today is running at two-thirds capacity.
Sami Abadlah, the plant's chief engineer, says if Gaza's power woes continue, residents will again face the ripple effect as water and sewage pumps break down due to the lack of power.
Mr. SAMI ABADLAH (Chief Engineer, Gaza Power Generating Company): I told major issues are affecting the people's life. When the sewage flooded through Gaza - some of the Gaza streets. This is a big problem. And some people - I know that sometimes they spend two days without electricity and they spend two days without water. And these things they cannot be available when you're opening the border with Egypt.
WESTERVELT: Abadlah warns that unless regular, full shipments of industrial fuel resume, the power plant could shut down completely this Sunday for the second time in a week.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Gaza.