Image: Palestinians from Gaza fill their petrol canisters with gasoline in Rafah, Egypt.
Khaled Desouki  /  AFP - Getty Images
Palestinians from Gaza fill their petrol canisters with gasoline in Rafah on Wednesday.
updated 1/23/2008 8:51:30 AM ET 2008-01-23T13:51:30

Osama Hassan can finally get what he needs to wed his fiancee, thanks to Palestinian militants who smashed the Gaza border wall Wednesday and cleared the way for Hassan and tens of thousands of locked-up Gazans to stock up in Egypt on basic supplies that are scarce at home.

Hassan, 25, and his 17-year-old fiancee Sarah hit home supplies stores in the Egyptian border town of Rafah. He bought a specialty mattress for his injured back and she assembled kitchen supplies.

The two had initially put off their wedding until July because they lacked the basics for setting up a household. After Wednesday's shopping spree, they plan to wed next week.

Hassan is a former Fatah fighter, but said he's grateful to rival Hamas for opening the border. "I'm Fatah, but today, I wish I could see (Hamas prime minister Ismail) Haniyeh and kiss his forehead, because without the gunmen doing this, we would have been stuck in the Gaza Strip," Hassan said.

Egyptian shopkeepers took advantage of the sudden surge in customers, swiftly raising prices of milk, taxi rides and cigarettes.

The price hikes didn't deter long-denied Gazans. They crowded into shops, buying anything they could.

Children bought soft drinks and chocolate, women scooped up cheeses and cleaning products and many men stocked up on cigarettes _ all expensive, or simply unavailable in Gaza because of Israel's shutdown of cargo crossings in June, after the Hamas' takeover.

Other Palestinians staggered into Gaza carrying televisions, and others sported brand-new mobile phones.

Cigarette prices drop
In Gaza City, prices of cigarettes — which had skyrocketed during the closure — started to drop. The price of Egyptian cigarettes fell by about 70 percent. The dollar rose against the Israeli shekel, since Gazans were using the U.S. currency for buying in Egypt.

Crowds waited at roadsides in Gaza City, trying to catch rides to the border. Taxi driver Mahmoud Abu Ouda had made one trip to Rafah, but then stopped because he had run out of fuel.

"The city is empty of cabs. They are all in Rafah," he said.

Rami al-Shawwa, a 23-year old falafel vendor, said he planned to head to Egypt in the afternoon, after his brothers return from there. He is going to buy waterpipe tobacco and just "smell some new air."

"We have been living in darkness for days, and closure before," he said, adding that he is not concerned about getting stuck in Egypt. "For my 23 years in Gaza, a year in Egypt will make up for it."

Even the sick had their day. Four Palestinians in wheelchairs were pushed to the Egyptian side, where ambulances picked them up to take them for treatment in Arish, a larger Egyptian town close to Gaza.

Egyptian police sat in armored vehicles, watching, but not disturbing the Gazans who poured through the border on foot, with donkey carts and motorcycles.

Hamas gunmen controlled the Gaza side of the border, and plainclothes Hamas militants mingled with the shoppers in Egypt, wary of them returning with weapons or explosives _ which could potentially be used to battle the militant group. Hamas police stopped one man and confiscated seven hand guns from him.

The shoppers depleted Rafah stores, prompting 32-year-old Ashraf el-Sayyid, an Egyptian, to ride his motorbike into the Gaza Strip. "I need to buy bread for my children," he said. "The Palestinians left us with nothing. It's true, they are dear to us, but today, they were like locusts."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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