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Cablegate: Gaza Border Update January 29

VZCZCXRO3483
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #0148 0290631
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 290631Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7994
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

UNCLAS CAIRO 000148

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL KPAL EG IS
SUBJECT: GAZA BORDER UPDATE JANUARY 29

--------
El Arish
--------

1. Econoff and FSN traveled to North Sinai governorate January 28.
In El Arish, the capital of North Sinai governorate, they saw a
group of about 50 Palestinians camping outside the Ministry of
Interior office. One Palestinian said he was waiting for permission
to travel outside Sinai for medical treatment. Others said they had
work visas in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the Gulf, but couldn't
get permission to transit Egypt to return to their jobs. One
Palestinian man from Gaza said he crossed over for medicine and
medical treatment for Israeli bullet wounds from 2001. One
Palestinian was waiting at a gas station with his children and empty
fuel cans, waiting for a fuel truck so he could fill the cans for
resale in Gaza.

-------------
Sheikh Zuweid
-------------

2. Econoff and FSN also traveled relatively easily to the town of
Sheikh Zuweid, about ten kilometers from the Rafah border crossing.
They noticed some tension with Egyptian police chasing a Palestinian
with a stick, and another policeman confronting an unruly group of
Palestinian men. During a brief meeting, loan officers at the North
Sinai Businessmen's Association branch in Sheikh Zuweid said that
they had faced no significant problems. However, they noted that
local Egyptians are having trouble with the high prices, spiked by
the Palestinian influx, as well as fewer supplies due to the Gazan
shopping spree. Nonetheless, the Egyptian merchants admitted that
"business is good."

------------------------------
Gazans Glad, Egyptians Less So
------------------------------

3. Overall, the Palestinians seemed happy, Egyptian El Arish
residents less so, as they fret about high prices and empty shelves.
One reported that in the hours after the border was breached, a 5
piaster (one U.S. cent) piece of coarse "baladi" bread was selling
for 5 (one U.S. dollar) pounds, a 100-fold increase. An El Arish
trader in a local cafe said he had bought a warehouse full of bags
of cement, shisha tobacco, fuel oil and other commodities but now
could not get it across the border. He's negotiating with the
Ministry of Interior for permission.

------------------------
Counterfeit USD 100 Bill
------------------------

4. Econoff and FSN observed indications of serious currency
trading, from an older Egyptian walking down the road flashing a wad
of cash as an advertisement to a young man in a cafe haggling in his
mobile for a good rate to sell 30,000 Israeli shekels. The old
currency trader said a Palestinian had passed him a counterfeit 100
USD bill.

----------------
Easy Riders East
----------------

5. The hot commodity appears to be motorcycles. Econoff passed five
pickup trucks at different times carrying new motorcycles eastward,
including one pickup overturned in a ditch that had been rushing to
Gaza with the goods, as well as two young men driving their new
motorbikes east to the border. Overall, the situation in and around
El Arish appears fairly calm, with police in control.

RICCIARDONE

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