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Israelis Protect Palestinians at Border


As we just heard, Israeli tanks moved into the Erez border crossing with the Gaza Strip today and officials say ambulances evacuated several Palestinians wounded in a shooting attack overnight.

A crowd has gathered on the Palestinian side of the border crossing. Many are trying to escape the reprisal killings that Gaza families are reporting since Hamas fighters prevailed. Palestinians who escaped to the West Bank city of Ramallah say they're fielding desperate calls from friends and family.

NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Ramallah.

PETER KENYON: Gaza's prospects seemed to grow more uncertain with each passing day. Even as Western aid money is poised to flow into the coffers of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' emergency government in the West Bank, some Israeli cabinet ministers are calling for an almost total economic clampdown on the 1.4 million Gazans living under the authority of Hamas.

Unidentified Group: (Speaking in foreign language)

KENYON: The lobby of Ramallah's Grand Park Hotel has become a de facto conference room for Palestinian Authority security men who managed to get out of Gaza. A 20-year-old, calling himself Haitham(ph) chain smokes Lucky Strikes on a couch in the corner. He won't give his real name because his family is still in Gaza. He says the Hamas' offer of amnesty for Fatah men is a ploy and his family has the body to prove it.

HAITHAM (Palestinian Authority Security Man): (Through translator) The other day, my cousin was with his father. They came and they said, don't worry, you're pardoned and we will not touch you. My cousin, he was killed. These people are not to be trusted.

KENYON: Here, in the relative safety of the Fatah-controlled West Bank, these men might be expected to brag about their role in the clashes against Hamas. But Haitham bitterly says the Fatah forces never had a chance. He says Hamas put the money it got from Iran and elsewhere to good use, while Fatah was driven by infighting.

HAITHAM: (Through translator) This last year, the security agencies did not have any salaries. On the other hand, Hamas' guys had salaries, had uniforms, had everything. They were preparing for this day. We were never prepared.

KENYON: As the evening wears on, urgent calls and messages come in from the Erez crossing. A man built like a middleweight boxer sits down. The frantic caller on his cell phone is saying that a Palestinian attacker started shooting at people, huddled in a cement tunnel, leading to the Israeli side of the border. Israeli soldiers soon begin returning fire. Afterwards, one Fatah supporter was reported dead and at least 10 people wounded. Another report comes in. This one says Hamas men have entered a Nuseirat refugee camp, sparking panic.

Unidentified Man #1: (Through translator) The children don't know where their mothers are. They're screaming. No electricity. No water. Complete curfew imposed on the Nuseirat area.

KENYON: The reports are impossible to verify. Hamas insists it's not authorizing any executions and Fatah men can return to their home safely. The tough-looking young man on the couch doesn't believe it. He says his wife is in the hospital after being hit by Hamas men looking for him.

Unidentified Man #1: (Through translator) We don't know what happened to us. We're in absolute shock. I keep thinking this is a nightmare. This is a dream.

KENYON: Residents of Gaza reached by phone said aside from a few incidents, Gaza is much quieter than it was during the clashes last week. Today, trucks resumed carrying medical supplies and food into Gaza. Palestinians are warning that the situation could collapse if Gaza's limited stores of basic food and supplies begin to run out.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Ramallah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.