RAFAH, Egypt — Mufid al Masry, 46, was so excited about his first trip to Egypt that he couldn't sleep the night before he set out for the Rafah border crossing, which Egypt's ruling military council ordered opened Saturday under new hours and fewer restrictions for Palestinian travelers.
So when Egyptian border guards rejected him, citing security concerns, Masry grew belligerent as other Palestinians at the terminal watched in sympathetic silence. An officer ordered him to stop shouting, which only made Masry angrier.
"I've been locked in Gaza for the past seven years and just wanted a breath of fresh air!" he said. "If you were locked up for seven years, wouldn't you be yelling like me?"
The Egyptian government's decision to permanently open its border with Hamas-controlled territory was heralded — or feared — as a sign of a new Egypt, one willing to risk U.S. and Israeli rebukes to provide a lifeline to Gaza's 1.5 million residents and to break from the policies of toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
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But Saturday's landmark opening of the Rafah crossing ended with a fizzle.
By dusk, just 400 Palestinians had crossed into Egypt, and another 30 were turned back because their names appeared on a security "blacklist," according to a senior Egyptian border officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to make public statements. About 150 Palestinians returned to Gaza from Egypt.
The numbers weren't much different from a normal day when the crossing was open, sporadically, under Mubarak's rule. And despite the council's announcement that the border would receive travelers from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., local officers said they didn't have the manpower to keep the station open past 5 o'clock.
To many Palestinians familiar with the crossing, it was business as usual: long waits, uncertain chances of passage, and condescending Egyptian guards. They dismissed the military council's announcement as little more than propaganda to convince detractors that the Mubarak era was over.
"It's no honor to enter Egypt!" a Palestinian man at the border taunted the officer who turned him back. The officer grew enraged, and started shouting at other Palestinian travelers.