Tension between Hamas, Egypt flares as border clashes erupt

08:31, January 07, 2010      

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A wounded Palestinians is carried away during a gunbattle near the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip January 6, 2010. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

Tension between Gaza Strip ruler Islamic Hamas movement and Egypt flared on Wednesday after clashes erupted between Hamas demonstrators and Egyptian security forces at southern Gaza border with Egypt.

Witnesses in Rafah town said dozens of Hamas demonstrators clashed with Egyptian security forces on Wednesday at the borderline area and they heard intensive gunfire at the area.

The violence erupted as Palestinian demonstrators hurled stones at the Egyptian forces guarding the borders and in return, the Egyptian soldiers opened fire to disperse the protesters.

Medics at Abu Yousef al-Najar Hospital in Rafah town said that at least seven Palestinians were injured, including six were lightly injured and another people is in serious conditions. It is unclear whether the wounded were hit by Egyptian fire or as a result of the stones thrown by their colleagues.

Egypt's Nile TV reported on Wednesday afternoon that an Egyptian soldier was killed in the clashes.

Gaza ruling Hamas movement organized the demonstration Wednesday morning near the borders against the Egyptian police who clashed in the Sinai desert city of el-Arish with members of an international aid convoy on Tuesday night.

Earlier media reports said Egyptian security forces clashed on Tuesday night in el-Arish with a pro-Palestinian convoy, led by the British MP George Galloway, which tried to deliver aid supplies into the besieged Gaza Strip.

The convoy of 198 trucks and more than 500 supporters left London a month ago, in hopes of entering Gaza from el-Arish, an Egyptian port on the Mediterranean, a few miles south of Gaza.

Hamas police and security forces immediately arrived at the area, redeployed their members there and prevented demonstrators from throwing stones at the Egyptian forces.

The witnesses said that a status of calm has dominated the borderline area after the clashes.

Tension between Hamas and Egypt has mounted recently after several media reports said that Egypt is constructing an underground steel barrier under the borderline to prevent Palestinian smuggling through underground tunnels over the past three years.

Egypt has not officially announced that it is building a steel barrier under its borders with Gaza, however, Egyptian government officials said it is Egypt's right to defend its borders and protect its national security.

Meanwhile, Hamas movement in Gaza slammed Egypt on Wednesday following clashes on Tuesday night between the Egyptian police and the international Humanitarian convoy.

Gaza-based Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement that Egyptian police's attack on the Gaza aid convoy "is an attack on more than 40 Arab, Islamic and European countries represented by the convoy."

Several protesters and police officers were injured in the clashes on Tuesday night, said local media reports in Gaza.

The reports quoted witnesses as saying that Egyptian police threw stones at the crowd and arrested seven demonstrators.

The witnesses added that the Egyptian police fired water cannon to disperse the crowd that gathered to receive the aid trucks.

"This attack is an evidence that the issue is related to tightening the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip for more than three years," said Barhoum.

He added that the members of the convoy "came to defy the unfair blockade, and the Egyptian police's attack was made in order to prevent those people who came to express solidarity with us from defying Gaza blockade."

Israel has been imposing a tight blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip since Gaza militants captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid in June 2006.

Israel and Egypt sealed off their borders with Gaza in June 2007 when Islamic Hamas movement took over Gaza from security forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Egypt has also kept its Rafah border crossing with Gaza largely closed.

Source: Xinhua
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