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Egyptian border guards moved to close the border with the Gaza Strip on Friday, forming a human shield and blocking movement of Palestinians into Egypt with their riot shields, eyewitnesses said.

The Egyptians were allowing passage only to Palestinians seeking to return to the Strip after visiting Egypt, in the wake of the demolition of large stretches of the border wall by Hamas militants Wednesday night.

Thousands of Gaza Palestinians crossed into Sinai for the second straight day Thursday, heading toward the Egyptian half of Rafah and El Arish on the peninsula's northern coast.

But the Egyptian security forces have created a kind of buffer zone between Gaza and El Arish, with roadblocks keeping out hundreds of Palestinians trying to reach Cairo.

Egyptian authorities made it clear that they viewed Wednesday's razing of part of the border wall as a way to meet immediate humanitarian needs, not as a permanent solution to other issues such as limits on Gazans' freedom of movement.

Egyptian merchants arrived at Rafah with a particularly large and varied supply of items Palestinians were keen to buy.

Since the breach in the wall, the Egyptian security forces have been busy trying to contain the traffic, mainly by setting up roadblocks preventing Gaza Palestinians and journalists from traveling westward.

They have also been trying to identify those responsible for bringing down the wall, and interviewed some of their contacts in the Palestinians' Popular Resistance Committees, a source affiliated with the local Gaza-based militias told Haaretz.

Hundreds of Palestinian students who are registered in universities abroad tried to persuade the Egyptian authorities to allow them to continue to Cairo so they could travel further afield. Despite a meeting with the governor of El Arish, any travel to the Egyptian capital was denied them.

Heading into the Gaza Strip, some 600 Palestinians who had been stuck on the Egyptian side for nearly eight months crossed through the breach during the past two days.