RAFAH, Gaza Strip -- Hundreds of angry Palestinians streamed into Egypt yesterday after militants with stolen bulldozers broke through a border wall, and two Egyptian troops were killed and 30 were wounded by gunfire in the rampage.
About 3,000 Egyptian Interior Ministry troops who initially had no orders to fire swarmed the border but were forced to withdraw about a half mile, said security forces Lieutenant Sameh el-Antablyan, who announced the casualties.
General Essam el-Sheikh said Egyptian forces later began firing back.
The militants' rampage through the southern Gaza town of Rafah underscored the growing lawlessness in Palestinian towns, especially in Gaza, and represented the most brazen challenge to the authority of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Earlier, the Egyptian troops fired tear gas and shot into the air. A witness said three Palestinians were injured, one seriously, when a troop carrier crushed him against a wall.
Police imposed a curfew on the Egyptian side, all shops were closed, and authorities cut electricity, plunging the scene into near total darkness.
Abbas, who has condemned the chaos, has been unable to impose order, and his failure to keep the gunmen in check is expected to harm Fatah's prospects in the Jan. 25 parliament elections.
The rampage began late Tuesday, after Palestinian intelligence arrested Alaa al-Hams, an Al Aqsa militant, on suspicion he and his followers kidnapped human rights activist Kate Burton and her parents for two days last week. The Burtons were among 19 foreigners abducted by Fatah gunmen in Gaza in recent months. All have been freed unharmed.
Hams's followers fired at the Palestinian security headquarters in Rafah, where he was held, briefly took over four government buildings, and then drove to the Rafah crossing, which was reopened last month after intense negotiations directed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Firing in the air, they closed the entrance gate and told waiting passengers to leave. They set up an impromptu checkpoint, turning away travelers, but left the buildings and the crossing after three hours.
The militants then stole two bulldozers in Rafah and led an impromptu parade of hundreds of jubilant residents toward a wall a few hundred yards from the border. Five militants rode in the shovel of one bulldozer, while children held onto the back of the vehicle.
''We are going to do everything we can to pressure the Authority to release our leader," said an Al Aqsa activist who gave his name as Abu Hassan.
The bulldozers smashed two holes in the towering concrete barrier at the same spot where Hamas militants had blasted through it during the border chaos that followed Israel's Gaza pullout in September. Palestinian security officials had closed the earlier hole with a patch of heavy concrete blocks, but those quickly gave way before the bulldozer yesterday.
Hundreds of Palestinians swarmed into the buffer zone as militants fired in the air.