Egyptian riot police gathered Thursday at the Egypt-Gaza border, directing traffic away from the frontier fence smashed by Hamas militants a day earlier.
Dozens of Egyptian police in helmets and with search dogs used batons to beat the hoods of private cars and pickup trucks that massed at the border to carry Palestinians further into Egyptian territory.
Several armored vehicles flying Egyptian flags were also patrolling the area. US and Arab officials said Wednesday that Egypt had assured the United States it would soon reseal its border with the Gaza Strip.
An Arab diplomat said Egypt told the US it expects the Palestinians' exodus from Gaza to end by midday Thursday, but a senior US official said Egypt has not been precise about when it will stop the flow.
On Thursday, thousands of Palestinians continued to flow through the wrecked border fence into Egypt. Egyptian drivers idled their pickup trucks just inside Egyptian territory, charging incoming Palestinians 20 Egyptian pounds ($3.60) for a ride into downtown Rafah and neighboring El Arish.
A few dozen Palestinians could also be seen returning to Gaza loaded with groceries. Men stood on the border, handing bags of supplies across to people inside the Palestinian territory.
'It happened in the daytime'
Gaza resident Osama Hassan and his 17-year-old fiancée Sarah hit home supplies stores in the Egyptian border town of Rafah on Wednesday. He bought a special mattress for his injured back and she assembled kitchen supplies.
The two had initially put off their wedding until July because they lacked the basics for setting up a household. After their shopping spree, they plan to wed next week.
Hassan, a former Fatah fighter, said he's grateful to rival Hamas for opening the border. "I'm Fatah, but today, I wish I could see (Hamas Prime Minister Ismail) Haniyeh and kiss his forehead, because without the gunmen doing this, we would have been stuck in the Gaza Strip," Hassan said.
Meanwhile, The Times quoted a Hamas border guard as saying that the Islamist group had been involved for months in slicing through the heavy metal wall along the Philadelphi Route using oxy-acetylene cutting torches.
"I've seen this happening over the last few months. It happened in the daytime but was covered up so that nobody would see," he told the London-based newspaper as saying.
Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesman announced Wednesday 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.