23 January, 2008


I mentioned recently how Gaza lost electricity as Israel cut off fuel supplies to the area's only power station. But then the Israelis relented, and released some fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip, while maintaining the general siege. Today, however, the people of Gaza were able to freely cross into Egypt, thanks to Hamas' demolition of large chunks of the wall on the Gaza-Egypt border. Palestinians in Gaza with money were able to buy things for the first time in a while.

Aside from the obvious visual symbolism of walls being torn down, the incident is interesting in terms of the pressures it puts on Middle East players. When Israel withdrew its colonists and ground forces from Gaza, they negotiated a deal with the Egyptians, whereby the latter would guard the Egypt-Gaza border. However, the deal was meant to be that the Egyptians would guard the border to orders from Israel, denying entry and exit as the Israeli state directed. This has largely broken down, partly because the Egyptian regime is unwilling to risk the opprobrium that would result from its putting the boot in on behalf of the Israelis. So, late last year, the Egyptian authorities defied Israel by allowing pilgrims from Gaza to return home after the Hajj. In some respects, though, the Egyptian leaders are making a virtue of necessity. Under the terms of their peace agreement with Israel, they can deploy only limited security forces in the Sinai peninsula; thus they would be very stretched were they to try and crack heads to rebuild the wall.

It will be interesting to see whether the Fatah government of Mahmud Abbas comes under pressure to try similar tactics against the Israeli wall on the West Bank. It is likely that the Israelis would respond to any such attempt with maximum force.

Pictures from Palestinians flood into Egypt (Guardian)

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