Egyptians grow weary of Gazans

Source:ap.org Author:OMAR SINAN Date:03/25/14 Click:

RAFAH, Egypt - Egyptian shopkeeper Safwat Hammad's shelves are empty and he is frustrated over the influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who crossed the breached border with Gaza in the past week.

Hammad and many other residents of Egyptian towns along the Gaza border are increasingly disgruntled, not only with the Gazans and their Hamas rulers but with their own government. They are warning that chaos is brewing and demanding the crisis be resolved quickly.

Hamas militants blew the border open Jan. 23 to release the pressure of a six-month Israeli blockade of Gaza. Egypt has since been struggling to regain control of it.

For seven days, Palestinians have flooded unchecked into Egypt, buying food, fuel and supplies made scarce in Gaza by the long closures.

On the Egyptian side of Rafah, a town that the border had divided, many gas stations have run out of fuel and grocery stores are short on food.

Hammad, 26, said he restocked his store twice this week but ran out of items to sell Tuesday.

"They are buying everything," he said of the Palestinians. "God forbid, they will also buy the air and we will not be able to breathe."

Gazans spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past week, cleaning out the stores in Egyptian Rafah and the nearby town of El-Arish.

They scooped up just about anything they could get their hands on — diesel fuel, cement, cigarettes, washing powder, electrical appliances, car batteries, medicines and even exotic birds for pets.

The Egyptians were eager at first to make a buck from the Palestinians but now they want the crisis wrapped up.

Some Egyptians complained the Palestinians drove prices up sharply and bought their goods, at times turning around and reselling them down the street at much higher prices.

Others even claimed they had been robbed.

Standing in the middle of a Rafah street in mud-covered sandals, wood collector Khamis Abou-Fares complained to anyone who would listen.

"After blinking for a second, I could no longer see my pile of wood," he said. The Palestinians "destroyed our town and now they are stealing from us. Is this the way to return a favor?"

Nooreldin el-Goneus, 25, said some Palestinians offered to buy the sheep he was selling to get cash for his upcoming wedding. But he declined because their offer wasn't good enough. Half an hour later, his flock was gone from outside his home and he says his brother saw some Palestinians load his sheep onto their truck.

"We took you (Palestinians) in and gave you everything we had, and now you are slapping us with those thefts," he lamented.

Not all Egyptians were complaining.

"God bless Egypt for keeping this open," Mamdouh al-Teeh, a resident of the Sinai desert, said as he emptied his trucks of diesel and tobacco for water pipes. He said he hoped the border would never shut because he had done "great business" in the past week.

Movement across the border slowed Tuesday as security forces made progress in sealing the breaches and cold, rainy weather discouraged travelers. Hundreds crossed, but that was a trickle compared to previous days.

Egyptian and Hamas forces closed one of three border breaches with a fence on Monday and were busy repairing another section on Tuesday.

On the Gaza side of Rafah, Hamas forces were managing traffic, stopping at least one car carrying Palestinian civilians and forcing it to turn around.

Still tensions were growing between Egypt and Hamas, which is now demanding a role in overseeing the border that it did not have before the breach.

Jittery about the border chaos, Egypt has invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and his rival Hamas to talks.

Some form of agreement on who controls the border could come either late Tuesday or Wednesday when Fatah and Hamas hold separate meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Abbas has ruled from the West Bank since Hamas militants overran his forces and seized control of Gaza last June. He still claims authority over Gaza, but in reality wields no influence there.

Egypt and other Arab countries oppose any future Hamas control over the frontier and have called for a return to a 2005 international border monitoring agreement that excludes the Islamist organization from any kind of role.

Hamas, however, insists on having a say in the border administration. The Islamic militants got a boost from the border breach among Gazans, who have been sealed off from the outside world for the past two years.

By nightfall Tuesday, three Gazans who made it as far as Kafr el-Sheik province, some 110 miles north of Cairo, were arrested and returned to Rafah, a security official said. The Gazans carried no ID papers, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

______

Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb in Rafah, Gaza contributed to this report.

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