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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 10:41 GMT
Eyewitness: Gazans surge across border
Gazans stream over border from Gaza to Egypt 23/01/08
Egypt had ignored pleas from Gaza to open the border

The BBC's Ian Pannell witnessed dramatic scenes on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, after Palestinians forced the barriers down.

I'm standing on the 10m- (30ft) high corrugated metal wall that was physically knocked down this morning.

My left-hand side is in Egypt, my right-hand side is in the Gaza Strip.

There is a man walking over flattened corrugated metal, pulling a goat into Gaza.

We have seen people crowding around petrol stations, desperately filling up on fuel.

We have seen families with luggage, cases held up high, as people are pouring in both directions across this border, but primarily from Gaza into Egypt.

This has been an opportunity for people to catch up with family and friends, but also to catch up on shopping.

Nobody is attempting to stop this

Essentially what has happened here is that the people of Gaza have forced on Egypt and Israel and the international community what everyone else refused to allow to happen - which was for the border crossing to be opened.

They have done it themselves.

This huge metal barrier is falling down in all directions - to my left and to my right - and people are streaming through in their thousands.

Human surge

Nobody is attempting to stop this. As we walked up to the border area, the final half-kilometre, there was one paltry line of Egyptian riot police.

Gazans stream over border from Gaza to Egypt 23/01/08
There seems little prospect of turning back the tide

But they are hugely outnumbered here, it's physically impossible to restrain the surge of people coming over primarily from Gaza.

We saw a number of riot trucks parked up. We know that the Egyptians have increased their security in the area, but short of physically using live rounds there is nothing that would stop this crowd.

On the other side we have seen men with bulldozers trying to clear the path to allow people over from Gaza into Egypt.

I think at the moment it is not possible for Hamas nor for the Egyptian authorities to do anything about this.

We have asked a number of people who was responsible for this, who did it.

People have credited Hamas - of course in their eyes it would be credit - but there is no way of verifying whether it was Hamas which was responsible.

Egypt's quandary

I have to say the local economy here in Egypt is doing very well today.

The first thing you see as you cross over from Gaza into Egypt is a line of men exchanging money.

Then the goods and the services become available to people.

In front of me there are people literally carrying lambs and sheep across the border.

As far as the Egyptians are concerned, they will certainly hope that many of these people will go back to the other side, but I think history would caution against too much optimism.

When this has happened in the past - and this is not unprecedented - many people have chosen to stay on the Egyptian side of the border.

The Egyptians are constrained by the peace agreement with Israel from deploying a significant number of security personnel in this area, which means they are also constrained in their ability to try to contain this kind of incident.

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