Gaza source: Hamas planned border wall blast for months
By Amira Hass, Haaretz Correspondent Last update - 09:10 24/01/2008
Hamas operatives had been sawing away the foundations of the wall between
Egyptian and Palestinian Rafah for a few months to make it easier to blow it
up when the time came, a source close to the Popular Resistance Committees
(PRC) in Rafah told Haaretz Wednesday.
A central Hamas operative partially confirmed the report, although he told
Haaretz it was PRC operatives who had prepared to breach the wall, while
Hamas policemen did not interfere.
In any case, Hamas has for months been discussing the need to take the
initiative in ending the siege of Gaza. Apparently, after four days of
hermetic closure, following months of siege, the planners believed the
political and social conditions were ripe to bring down the iron wall that
Israel had put up.
Wednesday around 3 A.M., the people of Rafah were awakened by a series of
blasts between 15 and 20, people said. The hospital in Rafah was put on
advance alert to prepare for those who might be injured by Egyptian bullets.
People started heading toward the blast sites, but a source who knew about
the plan ahead of time told Haaretz Hamas men prevented them from going over
to the Egyptian side before sunrise. At 6 A.M., the first people started to
cross over to Egypt, and their numbers steadily increased. The market on the
Egyptian side of Rafah opened early in honor of the visitors.
Butheyneh, about 40, said she did not hear the explosions. She found out
about the breach around 8 A.M. and at 9 headed with her two sisters-in-law
and two of her children toward Egyptian Rafah. "We were hoping to buy a few
things we needed, there are a lot of things we need, but mainly we felt like
getting out, seeing people, feeling like we were out of jail," she said
Wednesday over the phone.
The Egyptians did not allow Palestinian vehicles to cross to their side of
Rafah, but they did allow horse and donkey-carts. Egyptian police, who
watched those going back and forth without checking anyone, prevented
Egyptian drivers from transporting Gazans outside of Rafah, although some
drivers managed to do so by side roads, charging high fees about 300Egyptian
pounds, according to Rami, of the Shabura refugee camp. But even if they had
been allowed to transport people, there would not have been enough cars.
Thousands of people began walking toward El Arish. Egyptian Rafah began
running out of essential products that cannot be found in Gaza and whose
prices are very high: cheese, concrete, iron, oil. diesel, cigarettes, foam
mattresses, cleaning materials, flour, glass plates, mats, blankets. "The
prices will go up in no time," Butheyneh said. She knew that cheese was
cheaper in Egypt, but was asked to pay as much for it as Egyptian cheese
smuggled through the tunnels from Rafah.
The lack of concrete has made it difficult to bury the dead; the lack of
foam mattresses has meant weddings have been postponed.
Although the Egyptians raised the price of cigarettes in a few hours because
of the demand, their price in the Gaza Strip plummeted, from as high as NIS
24 to NIS 10 a pack.
Buses and trucks arrived at the breach constantly all day long from all over
the Strip. Many families came to satisfy their children's request "to go on
a trip to Egypt." Some went to see relatives not seen for some time,
children jumped at the chance for a bag of potato chips. The sense of joy at
freedom was entwined with great fatigue because of the crowds and the long
Some stayed overnight in Egypt, although most went for a few hours. When
they returned, Hamas police checked their belongings, especially people
carrying large cartons, looking for drugs and weapons. Butheyneh, who did
not buy anything, saw hashish in someone's belongings. He was immediately
arrested. Rumor had it that Fatah men had weapons, and they were immediately