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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Palestinians Who Have Been Separated For Years By the Egyptian Border Have Reunited

In a bold and brave move yesterday, the people of Gaza broke down the Egyptian prison wall keeping them from freedom and streamed by the hundreds of thousands in to Egypt to buy food and other supplies which because of the Israeli blockade, have been made totally unavailable to the people. The UN has condemned the Israeli blockade, various other governments have condemned it also in the strongest of terms. The people of Gaza are STARVING and dying from the lack of medicines and refused entry for medical care in to Israel as this collective punishment goes on.

The news is filled with the stories of this prison break but there is also another side to this story, there are also Palestinians on the Egyptian side of the border who have been unable to return to Gaza for YEARS to see their own families living there. Below is this "other side" to this story.

Gazans move freely after years

Thu, 24 Jan 2008

Amid a general buying frenzy, many Gazans are taking advantage of a blown-out border with Egypt to visit family or just see what it feels like to leave their fenced-off home at will.

Mussa and Rahmeh Naji woke up at the crack of dawn, scooped up their three children and headed on foot from their Egyptian village of Jura toward the breached border 10 kilometres away.

Dusty and exhausted, it was nearly midday when they finally got to the town of Rafah — until two days ago divided by a series of walls and today a bustling human hub filled with thousands of Gazans stocking up on goods.

"It's been seven years that I haven't seen my family," says Rahmeh, holding her five-year-old daughter Nada and four-year-old son Mohammed by the hand. "I married my husband — he's Egyptian — and since then I haven't seen them."

In the central Gaza town of Nusseirat less than an hour's drive north, Rahmeh's entire family awaited them. "I'm the only one who lives in Egypt," she says. "My parents, my cousins, my nephew, they're all in Nusseirat."

Says her husband Mussa, carrying their two-year-old daughter Fatima on his back: "Today is a really happy day for us and we thank the Palestinians for having blown up this wall."

When militants blew up stretches of barriers marking the Gaza-Egypt border overnight on Wednesday, they allowed Gazans to leave their narrow coastal strip without hindrance for the first time in years.

The territory — with 1.5 million residents, one of the world's most densely-populated places — is sandwiched between Egypt, which normally requires visas, and Israel, which has progressively tightened restrictions on movement since the start of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000.

The Israeli restrictions were turned up a notch in June 2006 after Gaza militants seized an Israeli soldier in a deadly raid; then again a year later when Islamist Hamas violently seized power in the territory, routing forces loyal to president Mahmud Abbas in a week of deadly clashes.

They culminated last week with a full-scale lockdown ordered by the defence ministry in response to persistent rocket and mortar fire.

But a day after Israel eased the blockade, Gaza militants set off a series of explosions that levelled sections of the walls separating Gaza from Egypt — and since then, Gaza residents have been able to leave their fenced-off home that they usually call an open-air prison at will.

"I just came here to smell the liberty," says Fawsa al-Jisha, gazing around while surrounded by her nine daughters. "I haven't left Gaza for a really long time."

But unlike most of the human tide, she was not going to walk past the mangled barrier into Egypt.

"I am afraid to go inside Egypt because I'm afraid that they'll suddenly close the border and I don't want to be stuck in Egypt."

Salma Abu Shaar of Gaza's Rafah is today finally able to see her sister, whose house stands less than a kilometre (half a mile) from hers, but on the Egyptian side of Rafah.

"The last time I saw my family was two and a half years ago, when Israelis left the Gaza Strip" withdrawing settlers and soldiers in September 2005.

"Before that, we used to be one family, living next door. Now we are separated and today we can finally reunite."

Saber Awad (27), took care to cross into Egypt just hours after the border barriers came down, heading to do his duty before his aunt living in the town of El-Arish.

"Her son died a few months ago and I couldn't present my condolences because I was blocked in Gaza," he told AFP on Wednesday.



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