2008 breach of the Gaza–Egypt border


2008 breach of the Gaza–Egypt border

The breach of the Gaza-Egypt border began on January 23, 2008, after gunmen in the Gaza Strip set off an explosion near the Rafah Border Crossing, destroying part of the former Israeli Gaza Strip barrier. The United Nations estimates that as many as half the 1.5 million population of the Gaza Strip crossed the border into Egypt seeking food and supplies. Israeli police went on an increased alert due to fears that militants would acquire weapons in Egypt.

Israel has controlled the Gazan side of the border since the Six Day War of 1967; Egypt closed its side in June 2007 days before the Hamas party took control over Gaza at the end of the Fatah-Hamas conflict; The breach followed a blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel beginning in part that same June, with fuel supply reductions in October 2007.cite news | url = http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2008/01/26/ending_the_stranglehold_on_gaza/ | title = Ending the stranglehold on Gaza | first = Eyad | last = al-Sarraj | coauthors = Sara Roy | work = The Boston Globe | date=2008-01-28 ] A total blockade had begun on January 17, 2008 following a rise in rocket attacks on Israel emanating from Gaza.

Although Israel demanded Egypt reseal the border due to security concerns, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ordered his troops to allow crossings to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, while verifying that the Gazans did not attempt to bring weapons back to use against Israel.

The United Nations Human Rights Council condemned Israel for the 15th time in less than two years on January 24, calling the blockade collective punishment.cite news | url = http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?c=JPArticle&cid=1201070783680&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull | title = UNHRC slams Israel's actions in Gaza | work = The Jerusalem Post | date=2008-01-25 ] However, the proceedings were boycotted by Israel and the United States.

On January 27, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised that Israel would no longer disrupt the supply of food, medicine and necessary energy into the Gaza Strip. President Mubarak meanwhile announced plans to meet separately with representatives of Hamas and Fatah to come to a new border control agreement.cite news | url = http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/world/middleeast/27cnd-mideast.html?_r=1&ref=world&oref=slogin | title = Israel to Allow Supply Flow Into Gaza | first = Steven | last = Erlanger | work = The New York Times | date = 2008-01-27 ]

In the first five days, Gazans spent some US$250 million in Egypt's North Sinai Governorate's capital of Arish alone. The sudden enormous demand there for staple products led to large local price rises and some shortages.

On February 3, Gaza's Foreign minister, Mahmoud al-Zahar, announced that Hamas and Egypt would cooperate in controlling the border without Israeli oversight. [cite web
url=http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2008/02/03/hamas_to_control_passage_over_breached_egypt_border/
title=Hamas to control passage over breached Egypt border
first=Nidal
last=al-Mughrabi
publisher=Reuters / The Boston Globe
date=2008-02-03
] The border was closed, after 11 days, except for travelers returning home.cite web
url=http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/04/world/middleeast/04mideast.html?em&ex=1202187600&en=e3ebdcac739a1d7a&ei=5087%0A
title=Egyptian Troops Seal Gaza Border
first=Isabel
last=Kershner
publisher=New York Times
date=2008-02-04
]

Background

Egypt had pledged to help control their border with Gaza along the Israeli Gaza Strip barrier subsequent to the Israel's unilateral disengagement plan which ended their 38 year occupation of Gaza in 2005 (q.v. Philadelphi Route). [cite news | url = http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/comment/0,,2247606,00.html | title = This exodus presents us Egyptians with a threat - and an opportunity | first = Ahdaf | last = Soueif | work = The Guardian (UK) | date=2008-01-27 ] U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brokered a deal with Israel giving the Palestinian National Authority control over the Rafah Border crossing under the remote video observation of European Union and Israeli monitors (q.v. European Union Border Assistance Mission Rafah).cite news | url = http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L21810299.htm | title = EU monitors to stop Hamas money at Egypt-Gaza border | work = Reuters | date = 2006-12-21 | accessdate = 2008-01-29 ] [cite news | url = http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2005/11/16/2003280332 | title = Rice deal opens Gaza Strip border | work = Taipei Times | date = 2006-11-16 ]

After Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative election in January 2006, an international diplomatic and financial boycott of the new Hamas-led government began. Beginning in June 2006, US$74.7 million in damage was inflicted by the Israeli military to properties and infrastructure in Gaza during the 2006 Israel-Gaza conflict, which ended in a truce on 26 November.

In December 2006 Hamas began fighting to expel Fatah, which had rejected the results of the election (q.v. Fatah-Hamas conflict). Hundreds of rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza had continued despite the November truce; the 2007–2008 Israel-Gaza conflict began in May 2007. The Israeli government closed all check-points along its border with Gaza in response to the violence. Egypt closed its border when fighting between Fatah and Hamas started on June 7. The European Union monitors ended their oversight at the frontier on June 14 due to security concerns. Egyptian officials said that a decision to reopen Gaza's border would be made in consultation with the European Union and Israel.cite web | url = http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/17/AR2007061701357.html | title = Gaza Straining At Egypt's Door: Humanitarian, Security Worries Mount | first = Ellen | last = Knickmeyer | work = The Washington Post | date=2007-06-18 | accessdate = 2008-01-29 ] Hamas seized control of Gaza on June 15.

Humanitarian crisis

Beginning in June 2007, Israel limited its exports to Gaza to nine basic materials. Out of 9,000 commodities (including foodstuffs) that were entering Gaza before the 2006 elections, only 20 commodities were to be allowed in. In July 2007, Israeli officials said threats of violence from Hamas would prevent even a temporary reopening of the border to allow Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side to return.cite news | last = Katz | first = Yaakov | url = http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1183459198627&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull | title = Hamas threats keep crossing closed | work = Jerusalem Post | date = 2007-07-05 | accessdate = 2008-01-29 ]

In October 2007, Israel began limiting fuel supplies to the territory. Ongoing rocket attacks on Israeli civilian population centers, such as Sderot, prompted the Israeli government to declare the Gaza Strip a hostile entity in September 2007 enabling it to further limit exports to Gaza.cite news | url = http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hxuqac9hsV3vZkpDSJlcAcJjjgFw | title = Israel brands Gaza 'hostile entity' as Rice visits | work=Agence France-Presse | date = 2007-09-19 ] Hamas responded that Israel had effectively declared war by labeling Gaza as an "enemy entity." [cite news | url=http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSL1972328720070919 | title = Hamas says Gaza sanctions "declaration of war" | work = Reuters | date = 2007-09-19 ]

In December 2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed the need for humanitarian relief in the Palestinian territories.cite press release | url=http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/palestine-news-131207!OpenDocument | publisher = International Committee of the Red Cross | title = Occupied Palestinian territories: ICRC calls for immediate political action to contain deep crisis | location = Geneva | date = 2007-12-13 | accessdate = 2008-01-24 ] In a statement, the ICRC described the living conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as "alarming" and called for Israel to ease restrictions on the movement of goods into Gaza and the West Bank.

By January 2008, the economic effects of the blockade had reached a critical threshold, according to a United Nations study. [cite news | url = http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/947133.html | title=UN: Despite Israel's promises, West Bank barriers have increased | first = Akiva | last = Eldar | work = Haaretz | date=2008-01-22 ] Finally, on January 17 2008, Israel sealed the border completely following a rise in rocket attacks.

On January 20, the only power plant in Gaza shut down. The United Nations officials implored Israel to reverse its decision to seal all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, warning that the violence in the region and cutoff of crucial supplies for 1.4 million Palestinians was provoking a humanitarian crisis. [cite news | url = http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/946066.html | title = UN warns of humanitarian crisis as Israel seals Gaza crossings | work = Haaretz | date=2008-01-21 ] Israel accused Hamas of "fabricating" the power shortage, pointing out that the power plant in Gaza produces only a minority of the territory's power. Israel stated that the blackout occurred for media purposes and stated that Hamas had timed it themselves. [http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Terrorism-%2BObstacle%2Bto%2BPeace/Palestinian%2Bterror%2Bsince%2B2000/Terror%2Bin%2BGaza-%2BTwo%2Bmonths%2Bsince%2Bthe%2BHamas%2Btakeover%2B16-Aug-2007.htm Terror in Gaza: Eight months since the Hamas takeover] , Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 14 Feb 2008. ] Israel said it was still providing nearly 70 percent of the territory's power directly.

Following widespread international concern about an impending humanitarian crisis, and a warning from the United Nations that World Food Programme aid to about 860,000 Gazans could be halted within days because of the blockade, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to ease restrictions on the flow of goods into Gaza for a day on January 22,cite news | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7201757.stm | title = Israel eases restrictions on Gaza | work = BBC News | date=2008-01-22 ] permitting shipments of fuel for Gaza's power plant and cooking oil to enter Gaza.

Breaching of wall

On January 22, gunfire erupted after a group of Hamas demonstrators, mostly women, forced open the door of the Rafah Border crossing and fled into Egypt. [cite news | title = Militants blow up Rafah barrier | | url = http://news.sbs.com.au/worldnewsaustralia/militants_blow_up_rafah_barrier_538751 | date = 2008-01-24 | work = World News Australia ]

Overnight on January 23, gunmen set off a number of explosions along the wall near the crossing. Palestinians packed into cars and donkey carts, or crossed the border into Egypt from Gaza on foot, to buy essential goods. [cite news | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7204029.stm | title = Gazans flood through Egypt border | work = BBC News | date = 2008-01-23 ] Between 200,000 and 700,000 Palestinians crossed over to Egypt and bought items at shops at the Egyptian half of Rafah and the North Sinai Governorate's capital, Arish. [cite news | url = http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/947624.html | title = At Gaza border with Egypt, masses make reverse exodus into Sinai | work = Haaretz | date = 2008-01-25 ] [cite news | url = http://www.radionetherlands.nl/news/international/5615026/UN-fails-to-agree-on-Gaza-statement | title = UN fails to agree on Gaza statement | work = Radio Netherlands Worldwide | date = 2008-01-25 ] A Palestinian security guard later told "The Times" of London that militants had been steadily cutting through the base of the Israeli Gaza Strip barrier with oxyacetylene torches for months. [cite web
url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article3241428.ece
title=The great escape – or perhaps it is just a gigantic shopping spree
first=James
last=Hider
publisher=Times (UK)
date=2008-03-06
]

While Egypt allowed Palestinians to enter Egypt, it did not let them travel very far; Palestinians were not allowed to travel further than Arish.cite news | title = Egyptians Controlling Border Traffic | work = Associated Press | first = Steven | last = Gutkin | date = 2008-01-24 | url = http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/01/21/international/i032311S33.DTL&feed=rss.news ] Egypt said that it would not use force to send back Palestinians.cite news | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7205668.stm | title = Egypt 'won't force Gazans back' | work = BBC News | date=2008-01-23 ] Foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said the border would be closed again when all the Palestinians had returned.

Ahmed Yousef, a senior adviser to Gaza's Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, warned that "The next time there is a crisis in the Gaza Strip, Israel will have to face half a million Palestinians who will march toward Erez," a border crossing with Israel, and on to towns left during the 1948 Palestinian exodus. [cite news | url = http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1201070788856 | title = Hamas: 500,000 will march on Erez | first = Khaled Abu | last = Toameh | work = The Jersalsem Post | date=2008-01-25 ] Israeli security officials said militants had exploited the breach in the border wall to send armed men into the Sinai to infiltrate Israel across the Sinai-Israel border. The officials said the militants were eager to hit back in response to Israeli attacks in recent weeks and predicted attacks from Sinai within the next two weeks.cite news | url = http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23111166-15084,00.html | title = 'Breakout into Israel' ahead | first = Abraham | last = Rabinovich | authorlink = Abraham Rabinovich | location = Jerusalem | work = The Australian | date = 2008-01-26 ]

On January 25 Egyptian security forces blocked almost all illegal entry points along the border with Gaza to try to stem the flow of Palestinians wanting to leave.cite news |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7208252.stm |title=Gazans make new border wall hole: Palestinians have bulldozed down part of the Gaza-Egypt border wall again, hours after Egyptian troops blocked holes recently made by militants|work=BBC News |date=2008-01-25 ] Egyptian forces in riot gear erected barbed wire and chain-link fences along the border to prevent more Palestinians from crossing.cite news | first = Nidal | last = al-Mughrabi | work = Reuters | title = Hamas challenges Egypt's bid to close Gaza border | date = 2008-01-25 | url = http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSL2417232020080125 ]

After the repair, Palestinians used a bulldozer to knock over the new fence, creating an opening once more. As the border crossings entered their fifth day, Egyptian border police began stopping Gazans from entering in vehicles and blocked off the road beyond Rafah to Arish. In Rafah there was little left to buy, and it appeared Egypt had decided to restrict the resupply of goods to El Arish and Rafah in order to peacefully end the crossings and reestablish control over the border.

On January 28, Egyptian security forces and Hamas militants strung barbed wire across one of the breaches, sealing it off. The Egyptians began repairing one of the two remaining breaches on January 29. [cite news | url = http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/949234.html | title = Egypt begins repairing new section of destroyed Gaza-Egypt border wall | author = New Agencies | work = Haaretz | date = 2008-01-29 ]

UN reaction

The United Nations Human Rights Council condemned Israel for the 15th time in less than two years on January 24.cite news | url = http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?c=JPArticle&cid=1201070783680&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull | title = UNHRC slams Israel's actions in Gaza | work = The Jerusalem Post | date = 2008-01-25 ] The Council released a statement calling on Israel to stop its military operations in Gaza and to open the Strip's borders to allow the entry of food, fuel and medicine. It asked the international community to ensure that Israel stop its actions in Gaza, which it referred to as "collective punishment of the Palestinian civilians that leads to disastrous humanitarian and environmental consequences."

An official resolution was presented by Syria and Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to the United Nations Security Council but could not be agreed upon. Thirty nations voted in favor of the resolution, one (Canada) voted against the resolution, 15 countries abstained, and one (Gabon) was absent.cite news | title = Security Council fails yet again to agree Gaza statement | work =Agence France-Presse | url = http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iwxbdieIpyWAY-I7tpbhRWtAsTmQ | date = 2008-01-25 ] Both Israel and the United States boycotted the proceedings, which ended with a call for Israel to lift its siege of Gaza but made no mention of the Palestinian rocket attacks on communities in the western Negev.

Israel government response

Israel demanded Egypt reseal the border and launched air strikes against the Gazan half of Rafah overnight on January 24, killing Mohammed Abu Harb, the commander of Hamas's military there.

At a court hearing on 27 January, the Israeli government promised to resume supplies of fuel, but not at normal levels, for another week. [cite news | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7211966.stm | title = Israel 'to resume Gaza supplies': Israel says it will resume supplying fuel to Gaza, 10 days after it stopped shipments following continued rocket attacks by Palestinian militants | work = BBC News | date = 2008-01-27 ] Later that day, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised that Israel would no longer disrupt the supply of food, medicine and necessary energy into the Gaza Strip. Israel then launched additional air strikes targeting the Gazan military in Rafah, but there were no injuries. [cite news | url = http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/World/Israel_launches_air_raids_on_Hamas_targets_in_Gaza/articleshow/2736183.cms | title = Israel launches air raids on Hamas targets in Gaza | work = The Times of India | date=2008-01-27 ]

Border control talks

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority which controls the West Bank, held talks on 27 January in Jerusalem on the border breach.cite news | url = http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/28FF4074-151C-4347-97A9-1332CDF136E6.htm | title = Talks focus on Gaza border control | work = Al Jaazera | date = 2008-01-27 ] Abbas reportedly wants to take over Gaza's border crossings, including the one with Egypt that Palestinians in Gaza breached, but Israel resisted the idea of giving the West Bank-based government control of the Gaza crossings, citing concerns about security.

Hamas and Fatah, who controlled Gaza before the last election, have accepted an invitation from Egypt to hold separate talks in Cairo on the border crisis. [cite news | url = http://www.albawaba.com/en/countries/Palestine/221464 | title = Gaza Strip border still open as Cairo to host Fatah, Hamas leaders for separate crisis talks | work =Al Bawaba | date = 2008-01-27 ] cite news | url = http://www.imemc.org/article/52479 | title = Haniya's former advisor expects reopening of other Gaza crossings | first = Rami | last =Almeghari | work = International Middle East Media Center | date = 2008-01-27 ] All sides hoped to create a plan to keep the border between Egypt and Gaza open. A Hamas delegation also met with Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal who has acted as a mediator between Hamas and Fatah. [cite news | url = http://aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=1&id=11610 | title = Hamas Hopes Saudi Mediation Will Lead to Direct Talks with Fatah | first = Turki | last = Al-Saheil | work = Asharq Al-Awsat
date = 2008-01-28
]

An Israeli defense delegation secretly visited Cairo on 28 January and discussed the situation with top Egyptian officials the London-based "Asharq Alawsat" newspaper reported. According to the report, the delegation relayed to Egypt Israel's fears that Judea and Samaria and Gaza Strip would smuggle weapons and explosives through Egypt's open border with the Gaza Strip. The Egyptians stressed that Israel was the one responsible for the deterioration of the situation in the Gaza Strip and the eventual breaching of the border wall.cite web | url=http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1201523783673&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull | title = Israel, Egypt meet on Gaza status | work = The Jerusalem Post | date = 2008-01-29 ]

Hamas stated they would accept a return of the EU monitoring mission if it were to reside in Egypt or the Gaza Strip, as opposed to being based in Israel. [ [http://news.monstersandcritics.com/middleeast/news/article_1389558.php/Hamas_accepts_EU_at_crossing_point_if_they_reside_in_Gaza_or_Egypt Hamas accepts EU at crossing point if they reside in Gaza or Egypt - Middle East ] ]

Closure of border

The border was closed by Egypt with Hamas's cooperation, except for travelers returning home, on 3 February. [ [http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1201867278614&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull Egypt closes Rafah border | Jerusalem Post ] ]

Economic effects

In Arish alone, Gazans spent some US$250 million over five days. Palestinians and Egyptians complained about soaring prices and shortages, especially of food. Enormous demand for staple products from Gaza caused rampant inflation, as did the Egyptian government's decision to restrict goods coming into the border region in an effort to encourage the Palestinians to go back home. Palestinians also accused Egyptians of price gouging, where prices have risen to the point where the cost of goods is suffiently high that supply matches demand cite news | url = http://www.voanews.com/english/2008-01-28-voa50.cfm | title = Egypt Tightens Control Along Gaza Border | first = Challiss | last = McDonough | location = Arish | work = Voice of America | date = 2008-01-28 ] .

The breach created tens of thousands of new jobs in Gaza where the returning caravans set up shop; unemployment had been at 40 percent. Egyptian merchants also crossed into the Gaza Strip to sell their wares.cite news | url = http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/948980.html | title = Hamas, Egypt cooperate in resealing Gaza border; U.S. peace envoy arrives | first = Avi | last = Issacharoff | coauthors = Yuval Azoulay | work = Haarezt | date = 2008-01-28 ] The food brought in from Egypt during the first six days would last Gazans three months, fuel about two days and cement for two weeks if the borders are resealed, according to various estimates from economists, business leaders and gas station owners.

However, were the border to remain open long term, Gaza's workers and manufacturers who had worked in the more upscale Israeli market before layoffs during the Second Intifada would have trouble competing in Egypt's low-wage economy, according to West Bank economist Nasser Abdel Karim.cite news | url = http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gBCMB9LnQ2oqg7sQ4NpHHFncbieAD8UF37200 | title = Border Breach Temporary Boost for Gaza | first = Sarah | last = El Deeb | work = Associated Press | date = 2008-01-28 ]

International response

*flag|Iran - Tehran offered to send aid to Egypt to alleviate the effects of the breach. [cite news | url = http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/01/29/wiran129.xml | title = Iran offers aid to Egypt over Gaza crisis | first = Tim Butcher | location = Jerusalem | work = The Telegraph (UK) | date = 2008-01-29 ]
*flag|United States - U.S. President George W. Bush condemned Hamas for delivering "misery" to the Palestinian people, and called for talks to create a Palestinian state. [cite news | url = http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iV3QsxeDRNOTb-t0eP-Y02adv4cw | title = Bush to Gaza: 'Look what Hamas has brought you' | work = AFP | date = 2008-01-29 ]
*flag|European Union - The EU said it would consider sending its monitors back to Gaza's border with Egypt, and unveiled a new plan for getting aid to Palestinians. [cite news | url = http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,3093985,00.html | title = EU Discusses Gaza, Unveils New Aid Plan for Palestinians | work = Deutsche Welle | date = 2008-01-28 ]

ee also

* Blockade of the Gaza Strip
* Israeli-Palestinian conflict
* Political status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip
* Governance of the Gaza Strip

References


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