RAFAH, Egypt – Hundreds Palestinian and Egyptian police formed human cordons on both sides of the Gaza-Egypt border Thursday to block a tide of Palestinians trying to get through after militants blasted a gaping hole in a cement wall near the crossing.
The hole provoked several hours of pushing and shoving to get across the border, but Palestinian police managed to reseal the wall with bricks and cement late Thursday.
Egypt also imposed a curfew on the nearby town of Rafah, ordering all stores, banks and restaurants shut, said Ahmed el-Masri, chief of police there.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene heard men with megaphones screaming that they were from the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, and saying they were responsible for the blast. They also threatened "another bold action" after evening prayers, but did not elaborate.
Two Israeli F-16 fighter jets screeched across the sky, setting off a sonic boom that sent Palestinians below running for cover. Two Israeli helicopters also swirled overhead.
The Israeli military confirmed aerial activity in the vicinity, but said it had not attacked any targets from the air in the Rafah region.
The sound of automatic weapons being fired into the air was heard over Palestinian national songs being blasted from speakers on the Gaza side of the border. Loudspeakers also broadcast voices encouraging Palestinians to keep trying to penetrate the border.
Dozens of Palestinians, mostly young boys, struggled to push through the 4-meter wide hole and hurdle a second border wall less than 100 meters away, witnesses said.
Boys threw rocks at Palestinian security forces, but at one point stopped in order to pray alongside the border fences.
None was able to fully cross into Egypt.
A tractor maneuvered at the site but was able to close only part of the gap.
Medical officials said two police officers standing near the wall were injured by the explosion.
Palestinians allied to Hamas and Islamic Jihad blasted holes in an Israeli-built wall at Rafah last September, flowing by the hundreds into Egypt. That breach occurred just days after Israel withdrew its last troops from Gaza, officially transferring the coastal strip to Palestinian control.