Thousands of Palestinians poured into Egypt, despite police opposition

Thousands of Palestinians broke through Egyptian and Palestinian Authority lines on the Gaza border Friday, pouring into Egypt in defiance of government attempts to secure the frontier.

It was the second afternoon in a row when crowd power overwhelmed the measures imposed in the morning to restore order on the Gaza-Egypt border, the Palestinians' only outlet to the world that avoids Israel.

The surge started when Palestinians waiting to cross pelted their own security forces with stones at the Saladin gate, the main informal crossing on the border, in this border town. When the Palestinian security officials gave way, the crowd pushed through the iron gateway and tackled the Egyptian police.

Policemen tried to beat the crowd back with sticks, but they were overwhelmed. There was no official figure for the number of Palestinians who entered Egypt, but The Associated Press estimated them at about five thousand.

Earlier Friday, Israel said the failure to control the flow of arms and people across the frontier had severely undermined the credibility of the Palestinian Authority. Israel handed over control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority on Monday, ending a 38-year occupation.

"They look like they're running a system which has neither law nor order, neither organization nor authority," Amos Gilad of the Defense Ministry's diplomatic department told Israel Army Radio.

Palestinian forces took up position in larger numbers than previously on their side of Saladin early Friday in what appeared to be an attempt to make good Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's pledge to restore order. Some nine Palestinian guards stood on top of the concrete wall that marks the border.

Other Palestinian police cordoned off two holes that Palestinian militants blasted in the Israeli-built wall on Thursday.

On the Egyptian side, newly deployed border guards laid down coils of barbed wire at Saladin to prevent illegal crossings. For the first half of the day, the two security forces allowed Palestinians and Egyptians to return to their territories, but not to visit the other side.

But eventually the crowd of Palestinians wanting to cross into Egypt grew too big and restless at Saladin, and broke through.

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