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The two sides of Rafah

I always figured my first blog post would be about crossing the street in Cairo. It's the first thing that out-of-towners deal with when they arrive here, tourists and professionals alike. Eight lanes of break-neck traffic and no stop lights to guide your way.

But the chaos of Cairo's traffic pales next to the chaos of armed conflict and I'm writing today about the fighting in Gaza. I've spent five of the last 10 days up the border town of Rafah, covering the action there.

Rafah is a divided town, with an Egyptian security wall cutting through the middle of it, separating the Egyptian side from the Gaza side. The Israeli military has been targeting the city heavily since the beginning of the conflict in order to destroy the smuggling tunnels that link the two halves of the town. Israel is destroying the tunnels to stop the flow of arms into the strip. The only problem is that those tunnels are also used for bringing food and water through to the desperate people of Gaza.

Rafah is also strategically important because it is the one border crossing not controlled by the Israeli military. Each day I've spent at Rafah, I see a trickle of medical supplies heading in and a steady flow of the wounded coming out of Gaza to receive medical treatment in Egypt.

You won't read many stories from Rafah in the newspapers. Most journals, understandably, base their coverage in Jerusalem. Part of that is because the story out of Rafah, about aid and about the wounded, has been remarkably consistent. But five kilometers (three miles) away, in the heart of downtown Rafah, the real story is unfolding.

Downtown Rafah is largely absent from the press reports because, unlike the border crossing, it's forbidden for journalists to visit there. We all go anyways, keeping a low profile and avoiding on-the-street interviews. The most likely reason for this press embargo is also probably most telling of Egypt's worries in this conflict.

Since the fighting began across the border, Egyptian troops have slowly been amassing in Rafah. Now hundreds and hundreds line the streets of the dusty little town. Sources confirm that the Egyptian military fears that if much more military pressure is put on Gaza, there could be a repeat of last January when Palestinians tore down the border wall and streamed into Egypt by the thousands to buy supplies they couldn't get in Gaza.

So as you follow coverage of the conflict going forward, keep an eye out for anything about the security wall. It's not a story yet, and with any luck it won't become one, but Egyptian officials clearly worry that it might.

In the meantime, welcome to the Egypt blog.

 

http://www.globalpost.com/notebook/egypt/090112/the-two-sides-rafah