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On Gaza's borders, anxiety mounts

Israel relaxed travel restrictions Wednesday, allowing a few seriously ill Palestinians and all foreign nationals to leave Gaza.

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After five days caught between Hamas and Israel on Gaza's northern border, Nader's ordeal was over.

With a bandage and brace supporting his arm wounded in a shootout Monday evening, the son of a Fatah intelligence officer sat in the orthopedic ward at Ashkelon's Barzilay hospital talking to friends and family on a mobile phone.

As uncertainty and degradation grew in the coastal strip following last week's takeover by Hamas, the militant Islamic resistance movement, hundreds of Gazans rushed to flee. Nader, who declined to give his surname, was among the handful allowed into Israel Wednesday.

Along with several other wounded and ill Palestinians and all foreign nationals living in Gaza, he was allowed to cross over the Erez crossing. But he still doesn't know if he will get permission to seek asylum in the West Bank or whether Israel will force him to return to Gaza, where he is convinced he will be harmed by Hamas militants.

"If you are not Hamas, you are the enemy," he says.

Palestinians along the border who have family members in Gaza reported that Hamas operatives were said to be patrolling neighborhoods with megaphones, and computerized lists demanding Fatah members turn themselves in along with their weapons. Families with relatives that fled to the West Bank, where Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah has consolidated control, were threatened with violence, they said.

Israeli security officials have been reluctant let the refugees through, arguing that they could pose a security risk and insisting that Hamas was not harming those who chose to turn back."These people are not refugees. These people have houses in Gaza and they have a place to return to," says Shady Yassin, a spokesman for the Israeli liaison office at the Gaza border. "There are women and children, but there are also extremists, and it's difficult to know who they are."


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