CAIRO: The Rafah border crossing will continue to be open Thursday for the second day running for Palestinians returning to the Gaza Strip, with the crossing not opened in the other direction for Gazans to come into Egypt.
The crossing was opened Wednesday to allow for the return of Palestinians who had been seeking medical treatment in Egypt as well as Palestinians living abroad who are returning to the Gaza Strip.
The crossing was last opened Aug. 15 when 2,000 Palestinians left Gaza for Mecca, Saudi Arabia in order to perform the Umra (lesser pilgrimage) during Ramadan. Some of these pilgrims were amongst the expected returnees this time around.
The crossing is expected to open one more time in both directions during Ramadan for another estimated 4,000 pilgrims to make the trip to Saudi Arabia once their visas are issued from Jordan.
Additionally, a communications director at the Gazan side of the crossing, Jasir Al-Mashukhi, told the Palestinian Maan news agency that an agreement had been struck between Hamas and Egypt that returning pilgrims would be allowed to enter Gaza on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays during Ramadan.
The Gaza Strip has been under a blockade for over two years now since the Hamas faction had wrestled sole control of the territory from rivals Fatah who now form the Palestinian Authority only in the West Bank.
The Rafah crossing has been closed since then but opened intermittently on a temporary basis in stretches of between three and five days at a time. Only people and medical aid are allowed through the Rafah crossing with other forms of aid having to go through the Israeli-controlled Karem Abu Salem crossing.
Israel had bombed the area near the border on Tuesday, only a day before the crossing was opened in an attack that killed three Palestinians allegedly working in one of the tunnels and wounded nine others.
Israel claimed it was responding to a Hamas attack that wounded one Israeli soldier and in response attempted to bomb the tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza border used for smuggling.
“The smuggling continues because of corruption, and the tightening on the people of the towns (of Rafah and Sheikh Zowayed), a Rafah resident told Daily News Egypt, adding that security forces had increased their crackdown on people in the area.