Egyptian guards with riot shields formed human chains along the Egypt-Gaza border yesterday, but were unable to stop hundreds of Palestinians from rushing into Egypt after a bulldozer wrecked another section of fence along the frontier.
Men in black clothing, some of them masked, stood atop the bulldozer as it knocked down a concrete slab under the watchful eyes of Egyptian forces on the other side, who shot in the air in an attempt to hinder the flow of Gazans into Egypt.
Thousands of Palestinians, many of them carrying empty fuel canisters, managed to push through several openings despite the presence of the Egyptians, who were deployed nine rows deep in some places. At one point, guards aimed a water cannon above the heads of people, not at them, to keep them back.
Cranes were positioned next to the border, lifting crates of supplies over into Gaza.
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.
The influx 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 had waited until yesterday to make the trip because he was trying to get together enough money first to shop in Egypt.
Egyptian Amira Ali, 39, carrying her toddler son and holding a six-year-old son by the hand, said she wanted to visit her mother-in-law in Gaza.
Travelers returning from Egypt said they heard loudspeaker announcements there that Gazans had to return home by 7pm yesterday.
The border was first breached on Wednesday, when Palestinian militants blew down large sections of the border 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.
In an interview published yesterday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the situation in Gaza "unacceptable" and called on Israel to "lift its siege" and "solve the problem."
"They should get things back to normal according to previous agreements and understandings," Mubarak told the al-Osboa weekly. He also invited rival Palestinian factions to Cairo for talks, but did not mention a date.
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 parliamentary elections in 2006, and further tightened the closure after Hamas seized control of the area by force last June.
A handful of black-clad Hamas gunmen fanned out along the Gaza side of the border yesterday, attempting to create order amid waves of Gaza residents approaching the area.
It was the first time since the border fence was torn down that Hamas deployed uniformed men to deal with the chaos.
The militant group has been using plainclothes agents to regulate the crowd.
The gunmen attempted to prevent cameramen from filming at the border area, at one point threatening journalists.