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Cablegate: Gaza Border Update January 29, Pt. Ii

VZCZCXRO4039
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #0155 0291500
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 291500Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8002
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

UNCLAS CAIRO 000155

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL KPAL CASC PTER EG IS
SUBJECT: GAZA BORDER UPDATE JANUARY 29, PT. II

REF: CAIRO 148

1. On January 29, econoff and FSN traveled from El Arish to the
border crossing at Rafah, encountering little traffic all the way to
the commercial customs terminal. There were thirty central security
trucks on the highway between El Arish and Rafah, and state security
officers blocked side roads and footpaths from the town of Sheikh
Zuweid to Rafah, a distance of about ten kilometers. The commercial
terminal appeared to be closed.

2. The non-commercial Salah ad Din border crossing in downtown Rafah
was heavily congested with people and traffic, as well as swampy
from the rains. There were several thousand Palestinians buying,
selling, and trading, or simply hanging out in Rafah before
trickling slowly back to Gaza with crates of cigarettes, cases of
soda, sheep, goats, electronics, a few cattle, and all sorts of
other consumer goods, using trucks, taxis, and even donkey carts --
all with Gaza license plates.

3. Despite all the muck and congestion and uncertainty, there was
no apparent tension. Egyptian security forces were present in
Rafah, but not in overwhelming numbers. They seemed to be
channeling the Palestinians with relative efficiency toward the
border.

4. Returning to El Arish, econoff encountered only light traffic
and a few pedestrians heading east, towards Gaza. The few westbound
cars on the highway were stopped at checkpoints for inspection. The
roads were calm. An Egyptian businessman told econoff that two
Hamas members had crossed the border to track down a Fatah
"collaborator" in El Arish. They trashed a hotel looking for him,
but he got away, and they returned to Gaza, according to the
businessman. Another businessman said that he was ordered to close
his shop, rather than being forced to close because he had run out
of supplies, as had happened to many others.

5. Separately, Egyptian security sources have told us that the
border is still open, but foot traffic has slowed to a trickle.
They say that the GOE is blocking the resupply of Al Arish and Rafah
area shops. The shops are, consequently, very low on supplies, and
many shops have closed altogether. Egyptian security contacts
believe that the number of Palestinians trying to enter Egypt has
shrunk due to bad weather (rain and unusually low temperature) and
the lack of supplies in Egyptian shops.

6. According to security contacts, four Border Guard Force members
are still in serious condition with the following injuries: one
soldier lost an eye when he was hit by a stone; one soldier was
severely burned when the armored vehicle he was traveling exploded
flames after being hit by a grenade; and two soldiers are
hospitalized with gunshot wounds. Palestinian snipers also shot
five dogs used by the Border Guard Forces.

7. Our consular colleagues report that two AmCit-Palestinian
families from Gaza made it to our consular section and have
subsequently departed Cairo for the U.S. after we confirmed with
Egyptian immigration that they would have no trouble in exiting
Egypt (they didn't). Also, Canadian diplomats told us that they
have received two Canadian-Palestinian families from Gaza at their
embassy in Cairo. There are also reports of Gazans reaching Beni
Sweif (about 100 km south of Cairo), and as many as 3000 Gazans at
Suez. The British tell us that they are considering making changes
to their travel warning, though none of the European embassies we
have spoken to have made any changes yet. Finally, Soliman Awad
reportedly told the Canadian ambassador January 24 that "We will
rebuild the fence."

RICCIARDONE

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