Border Guards Form Human Chain; Palestinians Rush Gaza Wall

Hamas gunmen, some wearing masks, ignored an agreement with Egypt and bulldozed what remained of a wall at the Gaza border Friday, creating an even larger hole through which Palestinians could cross.

Baton-wielding Egyptian border guards, some deployed nine rows deep and backed by water canons and dogs, tried to push back the flow of Palestinians, many carrying empty fuel canisters.

The latest clash came as a deadline passed between Egypt and Hamas' political wing to start securing the border and send Palestinians back to Gaza.

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The border was first breached Wednesday, when Palestinian militants blew down large sections of the wall. Since then, Egypt has allowed tens of thousands of Palestinians to go back and forth, but has rejected any suggestion of assuming responsibility for the crowded, impoverished territory.

Earlier Friday, Egyptian forces took up positions a few steps into Palestinian territory, using shields to protect themselves from some Gazans who climbed atop car roofs and threw stones at them. Witnesses said a photographer was lightly injured in the clash.

The visitors included a gaggle of Palestinian women in finely embroidered dresses and fresh makeup, heading to relatives' weddings in Egypt they said had been hastily moved up to allow Gazan family members to attend.

Yousef Mohammed, 17, from Gaza, said he waited until Friday to make the trip because he was trying to get together enough money first to shop in Egypt. "They don't want us to go in," he said, pointing at the riot police.

Travelers returning from Egypt said they heard loudspeaker announcements there that Gazans had to return home by 7 p.m. Friday.

By mid-afternoon Friday, Egyptians eased up on the attempts to restrict the cross-border movement. Hundreds of riot police suddenly left a border crossing at Rafah to march back into the Egyptian side of the divided town, and Gazans again streamed by the hundreds through the regular crossing.

Cranes were positioned next to the border, lifting crates of supplies and even livestock over into Gaza.

An Egyptian soldier was reported slightly wounded in the leg earlier in the day, likely from gunshots fired sporadically by Hamas militiamen from the Gazan side, said an Egyptian officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the media.

Five policemen also were injured by stones hurled by Gazans protesting the attempts to restrict their movement into Egypt.

The border issue became a verbal spat between Egypt and Israel when Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said Israel gradually wants to relinquish responsibility for Gaza, now that its border with Egypt was blown open.

It was a position echoed by other Israeli officials, who said the border breach could pave the way for increasingly disconnecting from the territory.

However, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking on Thursday to The Associated Press on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, said he did not want to "go too far in my interpretation of this."

Egypt angrily rejected the Israeli ideas and said it would not change border arrangements.

In an interview published Friday in the weekly Al-Osboa, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the situation in Gaza "unacceptable" and called on Israel to "lift its siege" and "solve the problem."

State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters Friday that "Egypt understands that it needs to act to control its border. It's a sovereign state, and it needs to have control over its sovereign border."

The opening of the border, even if temporary, provided a significant popularity boost to Gaza's Hamas rulers, who can claim they successfully broke through the internationally supported Israeli closure that has deprived the coastal strip of normal trade and commerce for nearly two years.

Both Egypt and Israel restricted the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza after Hamas won parliament elections in 2006, and further tightened the closure after Hamas seized control of the area by force last June.

FOX News' Reena Ninan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.