Egyptian authorities on Wednesday reopened the Rafah border crossing with Israel-blockaded Gaza Strip for five days, in order to allow Gazans in urgent need to enter and exit the besieged Palestinian enclave.
“The terminal was reopened by Egyptian authorities for five days in both directions,” the Gaza border authority said in a statement.
The terminal is set to remain open for five days in the coming week, not including Friday.
The short break in heavy border restrictions comes as Israel’s military blockade of the Gaza Strip approaches nearly a decade. Gaza’s 1.8 million residents continue to struggle to meet their basic needs due to severe constraints on goods coming in and out.
While the Egyptian border has remained the main lifeline for Gazans to the outside world, Egyptian authorities have slowly sealed off movement through the border since the first Egyptian democratically-elected president Mohamed Morsi was toppled by the Egyptian army in 2013.
MEO have met some travelers at Rafah crossing on the Palestinian side . One of them is Em Mohammed, 42 years old, who has a residence document in Saudi Arabia. She said, ” I have tried to travel to Saudi Arabia for a year and a half to see my husband who is a Saudi citizen, but he was not able to come to Gaza with us because of his work there. And now my residence documents have expired.” She also added, “Every time that the crossing is opened , I kept trying to travel, but I always found problems because of the huge number of passengers . Em Mohammed hopes that the crossing would work regularly to enable passengers to travel whenever they want.”
We also met Adel Fares, 39 years old, who was accompanying his daughter to Saudi Arabia in order to complete the procedures of her marriage to her fiance there. He said “Though my daughter has been engaged for two years, she could not travel because of the crossing’s constant closure, which caused many problems with her fiancé there. He also expressed his displeasure toward the duration of the Rafah crossing opening, fearing that he may not be able to travel. He appealed to the Egyptian and Palestinian authorities to for an immediate intervention to find a solution to the problem of the crossing due to end the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza.” He added saying, “There are many cases of divorce that occurred because of the closure of the crossing , and this is what he is afraid may happen to his daughter .”
Many children also were waiting to travel through the Rafah crossing amid severe fatigue. Fady Moammar, 9 years old, told MEO that, “For more than one year, I have not been able to see my father who is receiving treatment in Egypt.” He added, “I miss him so much and I am waiting eagerly to see him.” He appealed to the decision makers to solve the Rafah border crossing’s troubles and to ease travelling at any time.
On his part, Crossings’ Director Hashem Odwan told MEO that, “Opening the Rafah crossing is considered a positive step from the Egyptian side compared to its closure in the previous years. We hope to have it opened permanently. We have undertaken passenger-detections in order to facilitate the travelling process. He emphasized that two buses have crossed to the Egyptian side, carrying Egyptian nationals, hoping that the number of passengers during these 5 days reach thousands. We call on the Egyptian side, our neighbors, to open the crossing constantly to put an end to the suffering of Palestinian citizens in Gaza.”
Egypt, for its part, stressed that it would like to normalize the opening of the Rafah border crossing as soon as possible, provided that the Palestinian side of the border is controlled by the official Palestinian government, not any particular Palestinian faction, regardless of whether this Palestinian government is run by Fateh, Hamas or any other Palestinian factions.
The sustained closures rose amid accusations by Egyptian authorities that Hamas was backing militants who have carried out deadly attacks on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula, that borders the Palestinian territory, allegations Hamas has always denied.
However, the Rafah crossing has been reopened on a more regular basis in 2016. The Egyptian government opened the Rafah crossing for four days during the first week of June ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which time more than 3,000 people left the Gaza Strip.
Also in efforts claiming to prevent attacks, the Egyptian army has destroyed hundreds of tunnels allegedly used for smuggling supplies and arms between Sinai and Gaza, as well as by militants to infiltrate into Egyptian territory.
While the tunnels are reportedly used by Hamas as a source of tax revenue and inflow of weapons, they also supply highly-demanded necessities for Gazans including food, medicine, as well as infrastructure materials including concrete and fuel.