Khalil Hamra  /  AP
Palestinian militants from Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade smash through a wall on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt in the town of Rafah on Wednesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 1/4/2006 5:07:54 PM ET 2006-01-04T22:07:54

Armed Palestinian militants used huge tractors to break through the border wall with Egypt on Wednesday, then shot and killed two Egyptian security troops and wounded 30 others in a riot at the Gaza crossing point, security officials said.

Gen. Essam el-Sheikh, the chief of security forces in the North Sinai, said the Palestinians were firing automatic weapons and shotguns, and that the Egyptian troops were forced to pull back one kilometer from the border.

Brig. Adel Fawzi, also with the North Sinai force, said the troops were hampered initially because they had no orders to shoot. El-Sheikh, however, said Egyptian forces now were firing back.

The scene was one of utter chaos, with the Palestinians setting fire to automobile tires. An Egyptian armored vehicle was burning and hundreds of Palestinians could be seen crouched in farm fields just inside Egypt.

Hundreds of Egyptians, perhaps more than a thousand, also crossed into Gaza. There are large numbers of divided families in the region, and some used the chaotic situation as an opportunity to reunite with relatives.

Officials variously estimated between 300 and 3,000 Palestinians rushed through the border after armed militants stole two heavy tractors and broke through the border wall separating Gaza from Egypt.

Egypt imposes curfew
Shortly after the Palestinians breached the barrier, Egyptian officials cut electricity to the crossing point and imposed a curfew. Shops closed and residents of the region fled indoors in the near total darkness.

Earlier, the Palestinian militants had blocked the border crossing and took over government buildings in Gaza.

The gunmen, who belong to the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a violent offshoot of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party, rammed through the massive wall as a show of force against the Palestinian Authority.

The militants’ rampage through the southern Gaza town, also known as Rafah, underscored the growing lawlessness in Palestinian towns, especially in Gaza. Abbas, who has condemned the chaos, has been unable to impose order, and his failure to keep the gunmen in check is expected to harm Fatah’s prospects in Jan. 25 parliamentary elections.

Fatah-affiliated vigilantes demanding government jobs or the release of imprisoned friends have been responsible for much of the anarchy, particularly since Israel’s pullout from Gaza in September.

Threat to close Rafah crossing
Raanan Gissin, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, charged that the unchecked crossings are a violation of the agreement Rice negotiated. "We will deal with any terrorism that emanates from their territory, and we know how to deal with it," he said.

Israel threatened to close the Rafah crossing in coordination with European observers if the breach is not repaired, according to a Defense Ministry complaint sent to the United States and the Palestinians, the ministry said. In the message, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz expressed grave concern over the development.

Salima Abu Maghaseeb, 42, said she was angry over the disruption of her plans to travel to Egypt with her daughter for her daughter’s wedding this week.

“I don’t know why the Palestinian Authority is allowing them to do this,” said Abu Maghaseeb, who had her documents checked at the impromptu roadblock. “Those people should use their guns ... to protect people and not to come and terrify us. God only knows what the future holds for Gaza.”

Kidnapping thwarted
In other chaos, Palestinian gunmen burst into a Rafah house early Wednesday and tried to kidnap the parents of Rachel Corrie, an American who was killed in 2003 as she protested the impending demolition of a house in the southern Gaza town, according to a witness.

The five gunmen appeared to be affiliated with the ruling Fatah movement, according to Samir Nasrallah, the Corries’ host, but it was not clear if they were from the same group that blockaded the border. The gunmen eventually relented after being told who their targets were, he said.

Corrie, of Olympia, Wash., was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer as she tried to stop it from demolishing Nasrallah’s house. Her parents, Craig and Cindy, have repeatedly visited Nasrallah since their daughter’s death. They left Gaza safely after the attempted kidnapping, Nasrallah said.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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