Palestinian security forces took charge in ex-Jewish settlements in Gaza on Wednesday, ending anarchy after Israel's pullout, but struggled to stop uncontrolled travel over the border with Egypt.
Defiant Hamas militants blasted a hole in one segment of the frontier wall and waiting Palestinians rushed through before police arrived, witnesses said. Some travelers continued to evade stepped-up security measures on both sides.
But Palestinian and Egyptian officers said they were cracking down and the cross-border deluge prompted by Monday's Israeli military withdrawal had ebbed. Anyone found trying to breach barriers after 1500 GMT would be arrested, they said.
Israel protested at the disorder, saying militants opposed to peace efforts could exploit it to smuggle in weaponry.
The former Gush Katif settlement bloc in south Gaza looked largely deserted on Wednesday with Palestinian security men deployed in force. Gone were the legions of revelers, looters and armed militants who swamped the area on Monday and Tuesday.
But President Mahmoud Abbas canceled plans to address an official celebration in the area, sending an aide in his stead. The decision suggested Abbas remained unsure whether security could be guaranteed, especially against militant foes, reports Reuters.
According to The New York Times, Israel voiced concern about chaos along the Egypt-Gaza border in the three days since its pullout, sending messages to the United States, Egypt and the Palestinians. "We will not put up with this," Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said.
Egypt had assured Israel that it would prevent weapons smuggling once its troops took over from Israel along the Gaza frontier, and Cairo and the Palestinian Authority pledged to seal the border by Wednesday evening. Thousands had crossed unhindered since Monday.
Around 8 p.m. Wednesday, about two hours after the deadline for closing the border, an Egyptian officer bellowed into a bullhorn for Palestinians to stop entering Egypt and prepare to return to Gaza.
The frontier was still porous later, however, with the Egyptian police pushing back Palestinians scaling the wall on the Gaza side and trying to sneak through the barbed-wire fence on the Egyptian side. Up to 750 Egyptian border guards were expected Thursday, the police said.
Palestinian security forces in Gaza appeared to be doing little to stop infiltrators. At midday, Hamas militants blew a hole in the Gaza wall, making it even easier for people to enter the 18-foot-wide buffer zone leading to Egypt's fence.
Photo: the AP