By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) - Egypt shut its crossing with the Gaza Strip Sunday as countrywide protests spread to the border area, and five Palestinian militants fled a Cairo prison back to the Islamist-ruled territory, officials said.
At least 50 Gazan travelers hoping to exit through the enclave's only regularly-open border crossing were turned away by Hamas policemen who said the terminal may remain closed for several days.
The measure came a day after armed clashes were reported in the border town of Rafah, on the Egyptian side of the border to where protests against President Hosni Mubarak spread at the weekend. There were no reports of any casualties in Rafah.
Eight Gaza militants were among inmates who fled Cairo's Abu Zaabal prison as it was raided Saturday by Egyptians amid spreading chaos in the Egyptian capital. Five of them managed to get back into Gaza.
Hassan Wshah of the Army of Islam, a faction that shares an ideology of global Jihad with al Qaeda, made his way through a smuggling tunnel to his home at Bureij refugee camp in Gaza.
Wshah, 27, had been serving a 10-year prison term after being convicted of attempting to cross into Israel via Egyptian territory in 2007 to carry out an attack in the Jewish state.
"I have come out of the prison of darkness and injustice," the bearded Wshah said as he was greeted by family members.
Wshah said he saw at least four prisoners shot dead by Egyptian security forces as hundreds fled when inmates rioted at the Cairo jail Saturday.
Four other militants who got back into Gaza included three Hamas members, one of them, Muatasem al-Quqa, was jailed by the Egyptians seven years ago for aiming to enter Israel to carry out an attack.
The fate of other Palestinian prisoners believed to have escaped from the same prison was unclear. They included a top Hamas commander arrested four years ago in Egypt.
Many of Gaza's 1.5 million residents have been closely following the events in Egypt fearful of facing further economic woes if the border remained shut for any length of time.
(Editing by Ori Lewis)