CAIRO: The Rafah border crossing was opened Tuesday to allow some 1,000 Palestinian pilgrims to travel onto Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj in Mecca. The crossing will remain open today as well.
Saudi Arabia is sponsoring the pilgrimage of 2,000 Palestinians – half from Gaza and the other half from the West Bank – who lost members of their families to Israeli strikes.
Egyptian sources at the crossing had initially indicated Monday that the crossing would not be opened, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency, because the visas had not yet been issued. But later on that day it was announced that the crossing would be opened.
The decision to open the crossing for the pilgrims came after Saudi Arabia returned the pilgrims’ passports after stamping the entry visas for them. The pilgrims will fly into Jeddah from the Cairo International Airport.
On Sunday, 165 tons of food from the UN World Food Programme was transported into Gaza from Al-Oja crossing south of the Rafah one, which is controlled by Israel on the other side.
A Palestinian border official told Maan that there was “coordination with the Egyptian authorities to allow around 750 shelter tents into Gaza, delivered by the Union of Arab Physicians to those harmed of Gaza war and whose homes were shelled and are living in tents.
Israel insists that only people and medical supplies can pass through the Rafah crossing, with everything else being transported to Gaza having to be sent in through Al-Oja or Karem Abu Salem crossings over which they have direct control.
The Rafah crossing was last opened Nov. 1 for three days to allow stranded Palestinians on both sides to pass through. The majority of those crossing through from Gaza were students, patients and holders of foreign passports and residency permits. Additionally, Palestinians who had been seeking treatment in Cairo were allowed to return. An estimated 3,000 people crossed during that opening.