(by Benny Avni, Jan. 24, 2008, NYSun.com) UNITED NATIONS – Washington, Cairo, and Jerusalem are expressing “concern” regarding the flow of hundreds of thousands of Gazans into Egypt, testing border agreements that have existed since Israel completely withdrew from the heavily populated strip in 2005. Some Israeli officials, nevertheless, saw an “opportunity” in yesterday’s event, suggesting that responsibility for Gaza’s humanitarian situation should be shifted to Egypt.
Egyptian officials said that yesterday’s event occurred after an explosion on the border crossing from the Sinai desert into the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip. After the explosion, which blew the border barriers open, a teeming flow of Palestinian Arab men and women – up to 350,000 people, according to some counts – crossed the border into Egypt, in search of heating oil, food, cigarettes, and other goods Gaza lacks.
Egypt has accused Israel of creating a humanitarian crisis, but in Jerusalem, a foreign ministry spokesman, Arye Mekel, told The New York Sun that Hamas “has been planning this move for a long time. After winning some brownie points recently, it used the new situation” to compromise the Egyptian border.
“One of our concerns and one of the Egyptians’ concerns as well, is that Hamas will use this action and take advantage of it as a cover for additional activities designed not to bring in consumer goods but to allow fighters and others to get weapons and other kinds of supplies,” a State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said.
Prime Minister Olmert vowed he would not allow a humanitarian crisis to develop in Gaza, but asked a conference in Herzliya, Israel: “Does anyone seriously think that our children will wet their beds at night in fear and be afraid to go out of the house” while the people of Gaza “live in quiet normality?”
“Why should we supply electricity to Gaza, when the Kassam rocket operators aim their shots at the very power station in Israel that is supposed to provide that electricity?” a Jerusalem official asked yesterday, speaking to the Sun on the condition of anonymity. He referred to recent attempts by Gaza-based Palestinian Arabs to hit a power station in Israel’s major city of Ashkelon.
The official – who was intimately involved in forging the agreements between Israel and its neighbors when Prime Minister Sharon decided on “disengagement” from Gaza – said the “paradigm change” after yesterday’s event at Rafah may lead to a reexamination of some realities those agreements have created, such as Israel’s responsibility for the flow of humanitarian goods into Gaza.
“If Egypt and international welfare organizations are so concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, why don’t they just reroute the deliveries? They can send food and necessities to Egypt, and then deliver them to Gaza through the Rafah crossing,” the Israeli official said.
Rafah is the only border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Crossings on Gaza’s eastern and northern borders are controlled by Israel. After a significant escalation recently in the quantity and quality of rockets lobbed at Israeli towns, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered all crossings shut last Thursday. Yesterday, a set of explosions destroyed the barriers at Rafah, leading to a stampede from Gaza.
“Egypt is in full control of its borders,” Cairo’s U.N. ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, said yesterday. After the explosions, he said, “people started flowing. The security forces on the ground asked for instructions, and they were instructed by the political leadership not to obstruct their path and to allow them to obtain their humanitarian needs.” The crisis, he added, was caused by the “Israeli siege” of Gaza.
A day earlier, according to several reports, Egyptian forces used water canons and other means to hold Palestinian Arab demonstrators back. Israel has long complained that Egypt had not done enough to stem the flow of weapons and illicit cash through the Rafah border crossing.
According to the 2005 agreements, European Union observers were supposed to be present at the Rafah border crossing alongside Egypt’s security forces, to help monitor the flow of weapons. But the European observers fled shortly after arriving there, and since then Egypt had sole control of the crossing. Mr. Abdelaziz yesterday cited the lack of European observers as the “legal” reason that prevents Egypt from allowing humanitarian goods to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing.
For Israel, yesterday’s event was a good opportunity to remind its critics that it is not in complete control of Gaza’s borders. “We have no troops in Rafah,” said Mr. Mekel. “This is a problem Egypt alone should solve.”
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. Gaza is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas and occupied solely by Palestinians.
a) How many Palestinians are believed to have gone into Egypt for supplies after Hamas blew up a section of the barrier between Gaza and Egypt at Ramah?
b) What types of supplies were Palestinians buying in Egypt?
2. What did U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey say the U.S. and Egypt were concerned about?
3. Look at the map of Gaza here. Note that Rafah is the only border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
a) Which crossings are controlled by Israel?
b) Why did Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak order all Israeli controlled crossings from Gaza shut last Thursday?
4. a) What questions did an anonymous Jerusalem official ask yesterday when interviewed by the New York Sun?
b) What do you think – should Israel be responsible for allowing humanitarian goods into Gaza, or should Egypt be responsible? Explain your answer.
5. a) What reason does Egypt’s Ambassador to the U.N. give for why Egypt doesn’t allow humanitarian goods to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing?
b) What do you think of this explanation?
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