RAFAH, Egypt – 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 (search), 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 (search), 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 (search). 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 (search) 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.
Egypt had promised to stop entry from Gaza by Thursday evening, but it was slow to deploy the 750 border guards that it had promised Israel would be stationed along the border. Egyptian officials have said their military is unwilling to use the border guards, who are soldiers, for crowd control against Palestinians.
Israel says it fears that international terrorists will exploit the chaotic border to infiltrate Gaza and Israel.
Gilad of the Defense Ministry said weapons had been smuggled across the border. Black marketeers in Gaza have reported a sharp fall in prices of Kalashnikov assault rifles and Egyptian pistols.
But Gilad said he believed Egypt would restore order along the border.
"Egypt ... has to impose down to the smallest detail a regime of security ... to stop smuggling, to stop breaches of its sovereignty. As far as I understand the Egyptians they are determined to do that," Gilad said.
The governor of Egypt's North Sinai province, Ahmed Abdel Hamid, was quoted Friday as saying the Palestinians had to realize that Egypt had to stop the border violations.
Palestinians wishing to see their relatives on the Egyptian side were welcome to pass through "the legal crossing points," Abdel Hamid told the leading Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram.
When Israel closed the Rafah border post last week, five days before it withdrew from the Gaza Strip, it said it would open alternative checkpoints for the Palestinians.
People would be allowed to cross at Kerem Shalom (search), where the southeastern tip of Gaza meets the Israeli and Egyptian borders, and cargo would be allowed to cross at Nitzana on the Israeli-Egyptian border at the northeastern edge of the Sinai desert.
However, the Israeli Defense Force (search) acknowledged Friday that Kerem Shalom was not yet functioning, meaning there were only informal crossings along the Gaza border.