As the IDF was operating in the Strip, the movement of Palestinians into Egypt over the destroyed wall that once formed their border calmed down considerably.
Palestinians in the coastal enclave reported that the vast majority of those who crossed into the Sinai Peninsula had already returned – except businessmen who stayed in Egypt to work and the sick and infirm who sought treatment in Egyptian hospitals.
Palestinians also reported that many of those returning brought with them goods and livestock from their trip to Egypt. They denied accusations that people brought back weapons.
Palestinians bringing livestock back from Egypt (Photo: AP)
Hamas security personnel directed the Palestinian pedestrians in the border areas on the Palestinian side. On the Egyptian side, police chose not to intervene.
"Freedom is good. We don't need borders," said Mohammad Abu Hazal, a 29-year-old unemployed man from Gaza.
Egyptian authorities also said that Palestinians did not purchase weapons in Sinai and said the stores that sell handguns and ammunition did not attract Palestinian buyers.
"You can buy weapons – rifles and RPG launchers – all you want in Gaza," Rahman, a Hamas police officer, said. "It's probably easier to find weapons in Gaza than medicine for cancer patients or Coca-Cola."
Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesman announced that the border would remain open to the needy "as long as there is a humanitarian crisis."
"We are not opening the Rafah crossing just so everybody can cross - we're opening it because it's a very dire humanitarian situation," said spokesman Hassam Zaki.
After the "shopping spree," Zaki said, "We expect everyone to go back to Gaza to their homes within a short period of time."
Mubarak gave the OKEgyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday ordered Egyptian police to holster their weapons and allow the Palestinian masses to enter the Sinai Peninsula. "They were dying of hunger," he explained in a discussion with the press.
"I ordered that they be allowed to pass to buy food and then go back - on the condition that they were unarmed."
Earlier, Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal said that his organization was ready to open a dialogue with Egypt and with its Palestinian rivals in Fatah in order to impose order in the Gaza Strip in wake of the Israeli-imposed blockade.
Hanan Greenberg and news agencies contributed to this report