Hamas Protests Egypt Bid to Seal Border

Hundreds of Hamas supporters protested on the breached Gaza-Egypt border Friday to demand it remain open, while Egyptian troops poured cement and laid down metal spikes in a new attempt to halt the influx of Gazans.

Gaza's Hamas rulers want a role in running the border with Egypt, a demand rejected this week by Egypt and Hamas' rival, moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

It remains unclear whether Hamas will use force to keep the border open.

The Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said he would not allow the border to be resealed.

"The Palestinian people have many options," Haniyeh was quoted as telling the pro-Hamas daily Palestine in an interview Friday. He did not elaborate.

Hamas-allied militants toppled the border wall Jan. 23 with a series of explosions. Since then, Hamas militants using bulldozers have stopped several attempts by Egypt to reseal the frontier.

The border breach came several days after Israel had imposed a complete blockade on Gaza, with Egyptian backing, in response to a rocket barrage from Gaza on Israeli border towns. For the past seven months, since Hamas' takeover of Gaza, Israel and Egypt have severely restricted access to the territory.

Since the breach, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have rushed into Egypt, shopping and visiting relatives. Most have returned to Gaza.

On Friday, about 600 Hamas supporters rallied about 100 yards from the nearest Egyptian border post. One banner read: "Egypt and Palestine are one people, not two." A protester shouted, "Keep the border open."

Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas hardliner, told the crowd that "we will not return to the siege," and accused the Abbas government of working for the interest of Israel.

Some protesters jumped over metal barriers into Egypt, raising Hamas flags there. Dozens of Egyptian border guards watched, but did not intervene.

Egypt and Abbas have proposed returning to an internationally backed arrangement for the Gaza-Egypt border that would shut out Hamas and grant Israel the final say over operations there. The arrangement was negotiated in 2005, after Israel's pullout from Gaza. However, the border has been closed for long stretches since then, including in response to the Hamas takeover.

Egyptian guards closed more openings in the 7-mile-long border Friday. They poured cement to fill gaps in a low wall, and laid metal spikes on the ground to narrow the largest remaining passage. Motorists stopped crossing, but a few Gazans on foot or riding donkey carts trickled into Egypt.

In other developments, Hamas released a senior Fatah official after holding him for nearly seven weeks without charges. Omar al-Ghoul, an adviser to the prime minister of the West Bank government, Salam Fayyad, was the most senior Fatah official to be detained by Hamas since the Gaza takeover.

Hamas has claimed al-Ghoul was held for illegal activities, but never provided details.