Palestinian policemen, angry over the killing of a fellow police officer, stormed the Gaza-Egypt crossing on Friday, firing in the air and forcing European monitors to close the border and flee.
About 100 policemen entered the Rafah compound and took up positions alongside border patrol officers at the customs section of the crossing, Palestinian security officials and witnesses stated.
The European observers – responsible for monitoring the crossing and ensuring the terms of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement are upheld – fled the area, fearing the situation was spinning out of control, the officials said.
The takeover is the latest in a rash of armed kidnappings and takeovers of government buildings that underscore the lawlessness in Gaza and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ inability to bring order to the coastal area following Israel’s withdrawal in September.
A British woman and her parents were kidnapped Wednesday by armed gunmen near the Rafah crossing. The family’s fate remains unknown. Palestinian security forces are searching for the family, while British diplomats keep close tabs on the situation.
The border was closed because according to the Israeli-Palestinian agreement the crossing cannot operate if the European contingent is not present, said Julio De La Guardia, spokesman for the European monitors.
"Our monitors are now in the Kerem Shalom military base. When the situation is clear, and these people leave, we will go back to our work," De La Guardia said.
Kerem Shalom is an Israeli military base on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza.
The policemen who took over the crossing are angry over the killing of an officer Thursday in a family feud in Gaza. They are friends and family of the policeman who was killed, and are refusing to allow members of the two families and VIPs to leave Gaza.
Chief Palestinian security officer at the crossing asked the policemen to leave, but they refused.
The policemen shut the crossing’s main gate and fired sounds of live ammunition in the air when a VIP car carrying an unidentified Palestinian official tried to enter the compound.
The policemen are demanding the execution of the gunman who killed their colleague. They say no Palestinian official will be allowed to leave Gaza until their demands are met.
On Thursday, the Palestinian police officer and a civilian were killed in a shootout that erupted between two rival families. The violence began when a member of one of the families was detained by police.
The man’s relatives came to a local police station to free him, and clashes broke out. A third civilian was wounded in the gun battle and sporadic gunfire erupted around the hospital and elsewhere in Gaza City after the killings.