Palestinians pour into Egypt from Gaza

Chaos reigns on day after departure of Israeli troops

September 14, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Palestinians continued to celebrate a new sense of freedom yesterday, pouring across the temporarily open border with Egypt and through the abandoned Israeli settlements.

President Mahmoud Abbas, in a televised speech last evening, urged Palestinians to "create a model and civilized Gaza," but he also vowed to restore order, beginning with small militant groups aligned with his own Fatah movement. "We are not going to tolerate chaos after today," he pledged.

But yesterday, there was chaos aplenty, with thousands of Palestinians rushing across the border to Egypt to shop, while thousands of others continued salvaging salable or usable materials from the 21 former Israeli settlements.

In some places, Palestinians looted the greenhouses that were bought for their use by American philanthropists, taking nylon tarpaulins, irrigation hoses and electrical equipment.

Palestinian security forces deployed around the greenhouses said they were hopelessly outnumbered by the looters. "We need at least another 70 soldiers. This is just a joke," said Taysir Haddad, one of 22 security guards assigned to Neve Dekalim. "We've tried to stop as many people as we can, but they're like locusts."

Ziad Abu Amr, a Palestinian legislator from Gaza, put the scavenging down to poverty and to a sense of freedom. "There is an element of hatred for the occupation and revenge," he said. "Few Palestinian homes have escaped some form of Israeli oppression."

The jubilation is necessary and important, he said. "But soon Palestinians will realize that this improvement may not make a major difference in their lives or in the prospect of an independent Palestinian state," Amr said. "Then the situation will look gloomier."

For a second day, Egyptian border guards looked the other way as Palestinians crossed the fences into Egypt through the Philadelphi route, which had been patrolled by the Israeli army until early Monday.

Egypt had promised to keep the border secure but instead has allowed Palestinians a kind of holiday, lasting until tomorrow or Friday, to visit Egypt. Thousands crossed to visit friends in Cairo and El Arish, 24 miles from the border, to buy cheaper cigarettes, food, fuel and medicines.

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