Palestinian militants forced open a border gate between Egypt and Gaza on Friday, letting hundreds of people pour freely across the border, while Egyptian police and Israeli helicopter gunships tried to stop the flow.
At least 600 people, most of them students and patients trapped at the border in the weeks the Rafah crossing was closed, passed freely between Gaza and Egypt. Six armed Palestinian militants stood by, periodically firing in the air, witnesses and Palestinian security said.
Lugging suitcases, some of those passing through walked on crutches. Others walked or ran through the gate. A handful of Palestinian cars were seen crossing into Egypt.
Fearful militants would use the open border to smuggle arms into Gaza or whisk a captured soldier into Egypt, the Israeli helicopters fired warning shots to prevent people from crossing the border, the army said.
Egyptian police used tear gas and dogs to try to disperse the crowd, but the flow continued, police said. Three Egyptian police were injured by Palestinian gunmen, the police said.
The militants from the ruling Hamas party said they opened border gate as a "gift" to the Palestinian people.
Egyptian police Capt. Mohammed Abdel Hadi said masked Palestinian militants firing guns broke into the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, clearing the way for the trapped Gazans.
‘The whole world forgot us’
One traveler, Yasser Abu Shaab, ran into Gaza from Egypt, carrying his suitcases. He said militants stormed the gate.
"After that we heard shooting," Abu Shaab said. "We were in the hall, and we ran toward the door and pushed it open and we ran out."
Umm Raed was there with her two children whom she lost in the mayhem. "The whole world forgot us, so we helped ourselves," Raed said, crying.
The border, Gaza's main gateway to the outside world, has largely been closed since June 25 when Palestinian militants carried out a cross-border raid on a military outpost, killing two Israeli soldiers and capturing one.
Rafah's closure left hundreds of Palestinians who work and study in Egypt stranded, while preventing hundreds of others from leaving the coastal area to receive medical treatment abroad.
Last week, a 26-year-old Palestinian woman suffering from cancer died at the border while waiting to be allowed into Gaza.