ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
With the exception of some wounded Palestinians admitted to Egyptian hospitals and several truck loads of medical supplies allowed into Gaza, the Gaza-Egypt border is locked down. Many Egyptians want their government to do more for the Gazans. NPR's Peter Kenyon traveled through the Sinai Peninsula toward the Gaza border today and he found that local residents are sharply critical of their government's response to the crisis.
PETER KENYON: The trip across the long, dusty highway through the Sinai to the Gaza border is usually made without much company on the roads, but not today.
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KENYON: Long, painfully slow lines formed at police checkpoints as nearly every car and truck was searched and all passengers checked for documents. An official in Cairo said the heightened security measures were prompted by the Palestinians who managed to get over the border wall into Egypt yesterday during clashes with Egyptian border guards.
The government suspended permissions for journalists to get close to the border area. Lined up at the checkpoints were tractor trailers loaded with commercial goods that may be harder to sell now that Israel has bombed dozens of the tunnels that are used to smuggle goods into Gaza.
But they were greatly outnumbered by long convoys of green government vehicles carrying hundreds of members of the security forces up toward the border. Egyptian officials have said maintaining the integrity of their borders is the right of any sovereign state, but many in Egypt are acutely embarrassed to see Egyptian forces helping to keep the Palestinians in Gaza penned in while the Israel assault expands daily.
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KENYON: At a truck stop not far from one of the backed-up checkpoints, drivers watched coverage of a huge anti-Israel, and frequently anti-Egyptian demonstration in Beirut. Truck driver Rafat Imam isn't surprised by the anti-Egyptian comments being heard around the Arab world. He, too, thinks that the Egyptian government has a moral duty to help the Palestinians, and in his view, it's failing.
Mr. RAFAT IMAM (Truck driver, Egypt): (Through translator) It's shameful what's happening over there. Egypt has in its power to do many things, many things to help. The first thing it has to do is to open the border and allow the wounded to get medical treatment that's the least they can do.
KENYON: The condemnations of Egypt have been spearheaded by Iran and Syria, and by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called on Egypt to open the border.
Mr. HASSAN NASRALLAH (Secretary General, Hezbollah, Lebanon): (Through translator) All we are asking for from the government of Egypt and the leaders of the Arab world is, if you are incapable of stopping this aggression, then the least you can do is provide the materials needed for the people of Gaza to survive, resist and persevere. And I promise their fates will be victory.
KENYON: Many Egyptians suspect that their country's leaders have no desire to see Hamas victorious, given their fierce and longstanding opposition to Islamist parties. No such hostility toward Hamas exists here in the Sinai, however, where living conditions occasionally resemble those in the Palestinian territories. Just like in the West Bank, there are young entrepreneurs here trying to sell goods to people stuck at checkpoints. As the wind whips across his dusty bottles of shampoo, 21-year-old Ahmed Hanafi grows passionate when asked what should be done for the people of Gaza.
Mr. AHMED HANAFI (Vendor, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt): (Through translator) The Egyptian government is doing nothing. We wish they'd give us weapons, so we could go fight there. I, myself, I don't have a kid, I would go.
KENYON: But a second vendor, a few years older, interrupts to say that Egypt isn't the problem.
Unidentified Man: (Through translator) The real danger is Iran. Hamas takes its orders from Iran. It's a bigger danger than Israel.
KENYON: Everyone here agrees that Egypt has to do something to help the Palestinians, the question is what? Peter Kenyon, NPR News, on the Sinai Peninsula.
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