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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Palestinian Celebrations Create Chaos

GAZA -- Palestinians continued to celebrate a new sense of freedom on Tuesday, pouring across the temporarily open border with Egypt and through the abandoned Israeli settlements.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a televised speech on Tuesday evening, urged his countrymen to "create a model and civilized Gaza," but also vowed to restore order, beginning with small militant groups aligned with his own Fatah movement. "We are not going to tolerate chaos after today," he pledged.

But on Tuesday there was chaos aplenty, with thousands of Palestinians rushing across the border to Egypt to shop, while thousands of others continued their active salvaging of saleable or usable materials from the 21 former Israeli settlements. In some places, Palestinians looted the greenhouses that were bought for their use by American philanthropists, taking nylon tarpaulins, irrigation hoses and electrical equipment.

Palestinian security forces deployed around the greenhouses said they were hopelessly outnumbered by the looters.

"We need at least another 70 soldiers. This is just a joke," Taysir Haddad, one of 22 security guards assigned to Neve Dekalim, told The Associated Press. "We've tried to stop as many people as we can, but they're like locusts."

He said about 80 percent of the greenhouses were still intact, but looters walked off with lighting fixtures, cables and wires despite the police presence.

Ahmed Qurei, the Palestinian prime minister, toured Neve Dekalim and implored Palestinians to leave the greenhouses alone. "These greenhouses are for the Palestinian people," he said. "We don't want anyone to touch or harm anything that can be useful for our people."

For a second day, Egyptian border guards looked the other way as Palestinians crossed the fences into Egypt through the Philadelphi route, which had been patrolled by the Israeli army until early Monday.

Egypt had promised to keep the border secure, but instead has allowed Palestinians a kind of holiday, to last until Thursday or Friday, to visit. Thousands of Palestinians crossed to visit friends in Cairo and El Arish, about 40 kilometers from the border, to buy cheaper cigarettes, food, gasoline and medicines, while hundreds of Egyptians came to Gaza.

The Palestinians, who have been able to leave Gaza only with great difficulty in the past, visited seaside restaurants, looked for relatives and stocked up on household items. One man even bought two sheep, saying they were half the price of the sheep in Gaza. Taxi fares from Rafah to El Arish nearly doubled during the day, to about $70.

The Hamas militant group had a celebratory rally on Tuesday night in Gaza City, with its leaders hailing the Israeli withdrawal, which they credit to the resistance of Palestinians like themselves, not to negotiations. But there was no visible display of weapons.

The jubilation is necessary and important, said Ziad Abu Amr, a Palestinian legislator from Gaza. "But soon Palestinians will realize that this improvement may not make a major difference in their lives or in the prospect of an independent Palestinian state," he added. "Then the situation will look gloomier."