The wall separating Gaza and Egypt was blown open at four in the morning, also blowing a hole in Israel's strategy of fighting Hamas with economic isolation. By sunrise, Palestinians from all over Gaza began fleeing toward Egypt.
They entered on foot with empty hands, and in some cases, empty suitcases. They emerged with arms and bags full, carrying a variety of goods whose prices have become astronomical in recent weeks: Milk, cookies, cooking oil, detergent.
Men drove donkeys and horses with their backs loaded with bags of cement, which has risen to about $80 a bag recently, from about $5 before. Several hundred Egyptian police gave Palestinian pedestrians a wide berth and let them come and go unperturbed, some lugging containers of diesel or leading newly purchased cows and goats.
Gazan frustration grew this week, as Israel severely limited fuel supplies. Israel was supposed to begin supplying Gaza with fuel again Tuesday, but stopped short of what was needed, says Kanaan Obeid, the vice president of Gaza's Energy and Human Resources Authority. Mr. Obeid says there is now enough fuel for another two days.
"We want to breathe some new fresh air, the air of freedom," said one woman as she headed toward Egypt with five children in tow. "I don't have much money to buy anything, but I will buy some detergent. My main reason is to just get out to see the other side."
The Hamas policemen at the border made a show of doing their job.
"We don't allow everything," explained a policeman after making one man open his duffle bag. Inside: cartons and cartons of cigarettes, an expensive habit in Gaza. The policeman let the man go. "We don't allow drugs, weapons, and alcohol," he said. "Everything else is fine."
Israel doesn't buy the line that only basic goods are coming through. It has insisted that the rockets shot at its territory are being made with imports from Egypt. Israel's foreign ministry issued a terse statement placing responsibility for Wednesday's events on Egypt.