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Rafah to remain open until the end of the week

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The decision to open the crossing comes to allow pilgrims from the Gaza Strip to enter Egypt before they fly to Saudi Arabia

A Palestinian boy waits with his family to cross into Egypt at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

A Palestinian boy waits with his family to cross into Egypt at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday
(AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The Rafah border crossing, the vital crossing for Gaza residents, is set to remain opened until Friday to allow pilgrims from the Gaza Strip to reach Saudi Arabia for Hajj.

State-run MENA reported that the crossing will be open for pilgrims as well as people who are ill or stuck on the Palestinian side of the border.

Egyptian authorities have partially opened the Rafah border crossing for three days this week, starting Saturday. The Embassy of Palestine in Egypt said Egyptian authorities had opened the border for those three days in response to a request by Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Mahmoud Abbas.

On Sunday, some angry travelers attempted to storm the gates of the crossing because of delays at the terminal, Ma’an news agency reported.

Since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, Egyptian authorities have repeatedly shut the Rafah border crossing. In September, the border crossing was shut for at least a week on two occasions. It was shut for seven days from 11 to 17 September and for eight days from 20 to 27 September.

In its weekly report for 17 to 23 September, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said: “The crossing remains the primary exit and entry point to the Gaza Strip for Palestinians, due to the long-standing restrictions imposed by Israel on movement via the Erez (Beit Hanoun)Crossing.”

The Beit Hanoun crossing is in the northern end of the strip and is operated by Israeli authorities.

“During the reporting period, a daily average of approximately 130 travelers were allowed to cross into Egypt and around 100 others entered Gaza, most of whom were medical cases, students, people holding visas and foreign nationals. These numbers remain well below the daily average of approximately 1,860 who crossed in June,” OCHA said in its report for last week. OCHA estimated that 5,000 in the strip are waiting to travel to Egypt.

Disruptions in the opening and closing of the crossing primarily affect students who study in Egypt or go to universities elsewhere via Egypt, people who work outside Gaza and came to visit for the summer, and people with serious health conditions like heart disease and cancer, who primarily rely on Egyptian hospitals for treatment.

Gaza has been under an air, sea and land blockade since 2007. For cargo, there are two crossings: the Israeli controlled Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) border crossing and the Egyptian controlled Al-Awja, which largely does not operate.

The restrictions Israel imposes on entry of goods to the strip has forced residents to rely on illegal tunnels beneath the Egypt-Gaza border for goods. With the Egyptian army’s crackdown on the tunnels, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is further worsened.

OCHA cites local sources as saying that 20 to 30 truckloads of goods were transported through the remaining tunnels which “constitute less than 15% of the volume of goods that entered before June 2013.”

“Due to the decline in tunnel activity, significant shortages of goods, including cheap fuel and construction materials, continued,” OCHA said.


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