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Rafah crossing to open on Wednesday and Thursday

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The border crossing has been closed since 27 December

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

The Rafah border crossing, which connects the Gaza Strip to the outside world, is scheduled to open on Wednesday and Thursday.

The border crossing, which was shut down by Egyptian authorities on 27 December, is going to be opened in both directions, Palestinian Ambassador to Egypt Barakat Al-Farra said in a statement.

Fadel Almzainy, a researcher for the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said, “The conditions in Gaza are extremely difficult and the [Egyptian] government has to reconsider the Rafah border crossing from a humanitarian aspect.”

The border crossing was shut for most of December, and has remained closed for a total of 23 consecutive days, up from 20 days of closure in November, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released in a report.

After the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, Egyptian authorities have shut down the Rafah border crossing repeatedly. Shutdowns have often lasted for longer than a week.

“The rest of the border crossings are shut, [and] we hold the Israeli occupation responsible,” Almzainy said, stressing that people in Gaza look up to Egypt as a “haven” and describing Egypt as “Gaza’s big sister.”

Almzainy says that even when the Rafah border crossing operates, it operates in a “slow and limited” capacity. “Not everyone who wants to travel is able to travel,” he said.

Closing the border crossing, which was described by OCHA’s report as “the primary exit and entry point to the Gaza Strip for Palestinians”, primarily affects students who study outside Gaza, Gazan patients who usually seek treatment in Egyptian hospitals and people who work and reside abroad.

Many students remain inside the strip, unable to reach their universities in Egypt and other countries; the latest UNOCHA report said, “It is estimated that hundreds of patients are unable to access specialised services.”

In addition to restricted movement, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is further worsened by fuel shortages. There are three sources of electricity for the besieged strip: Israeli feeder lines, Egyptian feeder lines and the Gaza Power Plant (GPP), the strip’s only power plant.

Gaza needs around 420 megawatts of electricity per day — even if all three of the sources provide the maximum amount of electricity up to capacity, it would still be insufficient.

After shutting down for a month and a half due to fuel shortages, the GPP resumed operations 15 December, after Qatar donated funds to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to purchase fuel from Israel, “since Hamas does not have any direct ties with Israel,” Almzainy said.

This was Qatar’s second attempt to facilitate the delivery of fuel to Gaza. Before that, Qatari fuel was provided to Gaza for daily use and was kept in Egypt. Almzainy said, “Egypt has stopped sending us our fuel.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said on 19 December that Egypt began taking the necessary procedures to resume transferring the remaining Qatari grant of fuel allocated for the Gaza Strip. The spokesman added that challenges in Sinai have obstructed the transport of fuel supplies in recent months.

But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahri said in a statement on Sunday that half of the Qatari fuel donated to Gaza has not reached Gaza yet.

The GPP had been running below capacity for years but its shutdown on 1 November spelled extremely long power outages for Gazans. Almzainy said homes would have electricity for only four hours a day, as opposed to when GPP resumes operations, during which homes can receive up to 12 hours of power a day.

Egyptian security forces have destroyed many of the illegal underground tunnels lying beneath the Egypt-Gaza border.

Towards the end of July, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert H. Serry said some reports suggested that the Egyptian army’s crackdown led to 80% of the tunnels being out of operation. But the crackdown has significantly intensified since.

Gaza has been under a land, air and sea blockade since 2007 when Hamas took over the strip. The underground tunnels are essential for providing Gazans with many products that would otherwise not make it through the border, including food, medicine, fuel and building materials.

Egypt-Hamas ties have been strained following Morsi’s ouster, with media reports showing Hamas connections  to internal strife in Egypt and linking Hamas to insurgency in Sinai.

Charges were brought against Morsi and other Brotherhood figures on 18 December, accusing Brotherhood leadership of taking part in a “plot” organised by a number of foreign parties — including Hamas — to incite “violence inside Egypt to create a state of ultimate chaos.”

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had stated in September that his government would provide for its people following the intensified crackdown on the smuggling tunnels by Egyptian security forces. He denied in October that Hamas is party to any incidents in Sinai or elsewhere in Egypt.


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