Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Dealers Smuggle Weapons Into Gaza From Egypt

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Palestinian gunrunners smuggled hundreds of assault rifles and pistols across the Egyptian frontier into Gaza, dealers and border officials said Wednesday. The influx confirmed Israeli fears about giving up border control and could further destabilize Gaza.Black market prices for weapons dropped sharply, with the price of AK-47 assault rifles nearly cut in half, to $1,300, and even steeper reductions for handguns.
The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has tried to impose order since the Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza on Monday, but militant groups scoffed at a new demand by the Palestinian Authority that they must disband after parliamentary elections in January, saying they would not surrender their weapons.
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 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.One arms dealer, interviewed in a car outside the Rafah cemetery, said hundreds of AK-47's had been smuggled from Egypt since Monday. He said he sold his guns to militants but declined to say how many pieces his runners brought back.Another dealer said competitors reported having $1 million worth of loot confiscated, including grenade launchers.


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