Joyous Palestinians clambered over walls Monday separating this desert town split into Egyptian and Palestinian halves, meeting relatives they haven't seen in years after Israel withdrew its last soldiers from the Gaza Strip.
Among those crossing were purported members of the radical Islamic group, Hamas, who waved the militant group's green flag on Egyptian territory, raising immediate concern over Egypt's ability to meet Israeli demands to prevent militants leaving Gaza, the AP informs.
Egyptian security officials said they let the crossings take place as a "humanitarian" gesture to let people separated for years reunite. The officials also suggested the free, unchecked crossings would be short-lived as Egypt country deploys 750 heavily armed troops to secure its border with Gaza following the end of Israel's 38-year occupation.
"Before, no one could get near this area. They would be either shot or captured," said one of the Egyptian policeman who are being replaced by the incoming border guards. "It is only for today, but you can see their is chaos," the policeman added without wanting to be identified, citing security concerns.
Within hours of Monday's withdrawal, hooded Hamas militants toting guns stood atop the Palestinian wall as grinning Gazans clambered over using ropes to meet relatives long stranded on the Egyptian side. Residents on the Egyptian side climbed onto rooftops and waved toward the Palestinian side.
A group of men and boys danced around a large green Hamas flag in full view of Egyptian security forces, who are also battling Islamic militants responsible for several deadly tourist resort bombings on the Sinai Peninsula.
Two walls,one Egyptian and the other long guarded by Israel,run through Rafah separated by a narrow strip. Egyptian security forces stood by as hundreds of Egyptians and Palestinians helped people climb over the fences at will and join the spontaneous celebrations held under a scorching sun.