The ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip spilled over into Egypt on Wednesday when Palestinian militants destroyed most of the border wall between the two territories. The move came despite the fact that on Tuesday Israel had somewhat eased the blockade it had imposed on the isolated coastal strip since last week.
Tens of thousands of people flooded across the border on foot, in cars or riding donkeys, after militants set off a series of explosions overnight demolishing large chunks of the wall. The desperate Gazans bought cigarettes, fuel and other items that have been scarce over months of severe restrictions to movement in and out of the Gaza Strip imposed by the Israelis.
On Tuesday Israel eased the complete closure it had imposed on Gaza six days ago by transferring fuel to restart Gaza's sole power plant, as well as food and medicine. The move came after the looming humanitarian crisis led to an international outcry at what many regard as unfair collective punishment.
The blockade was in response to rockets fired by Hamas across the border. Over the past week, 250 rockets pounded Israel amid escalating violence during which Israeli troops killed more than 30 Palestinians.
Gaza has largely been cut off since Hamas Islamists won a power struggle with Fatah there last June. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas after the violent takeover there and appointed a new government based in the West Bank, effectively creating two separate Palestinian territories.
Egypt had backed the closure of Gaza but on Wednesday Egyptian border guards took no action as the people of Gaza streamed across the border. Gaza's Hamas rulers had been organizing daily demonstrations on the border in an apparent attempt to appeal to Arab public opinion and pressure Egypt to open the crossing. However, Egypt has been concerned that Islamist militancy could spill over into the country from Gaza if it were to ease restrictions on movement.
On Wednesday some German commentators both condemn and question the effectiveness of the Israeli blockade.
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Aside from the question of whether it is legitimate to collectively punish the Gaza Strip's 1.5 million inhabitants for the actions of Hamas, the blockade has revealed Israel's helplessness when it comes to dealing with Gaza. A blockade policy quickly reaches its limits. If the hospitals in Gaza no longer have electricity and sewage is running through the streets, then Israel will come under international pressure."
"The alternative would be Israeli troops invading the Gaza Strip. However, it is wary of getting involved in another guerrilla war -- such as the one that they were not able to win in Lebanon in 2006."
"Whether blockade or military invasion: Hamas is not going to disappear into thin air. These types of measures will only lead to further radicalization in the Gaza Strip. A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is the only way to break this vicious circle."
"The deal could be: No more rockets from the Gaza Strip targeting Israeli territory, but in return no more Israeli operations and an end to the 'targeted killing' of Hamas activists, and of course an end to the blockade. That would heal the rift between Fatah and Hamas on the Palestinian side. And only then can there be any meaningful peace talks."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"(Israeli Defense Minister Ehud) Barak says he is more worried about the welfare of Israeli citizens than about the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert says the Gaza inhabitants are not entitled to fuel."
"As long as the Israeli government doesnt care about the suffering of the Palestinian people a neighborly existence will not be possible. Olmert and Barak are playing to resentments and are fueling anger against the Palestinians."
"With their tough words, both are trying to play the strong man. But greatness and strength are actually measured by seeking dialogue with the enemy and ending the isolation of Hamas. Olmert and Barak are showing great naivety if they believe they can turn the people of Gaza against their rulers using collective punishment."
"As long as Israel only reacts helplessly to Hamas' rockets with military action, then the country with one of the strongest armies in the world will in reality be a prisoner of Hamas."
-- Siobhán Dowling, CET 11:45 a.m.