Egyptian authorities temporarily opened the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the besieged Gaza Strip to The first group of Gazan pilgrims crossed Tuesday into Egypt on their way to the holy lands in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj rituals. This came after the Egyptian authorities allowed the Rafah border crossing to be open exceptionally for three days for the departure of Gaza pilgrims, who number 2,318 individuals. According to the Palestinian authorities at the Rafah border crossing, the pilgrims will fly to the Saudi city of Jeddah from Cairo airport on three trips per day.
Egypt decided to open the crossing for three days in order for some 2,008 Gazan pilgrims who were able to obtain visas to use the Cairo airport to travel to Mecca.
However, procedures for Palestinians to return to Gaza following their pilgrimage were still undetermined on Tuesday.
Egypt has upheld an Israeli military blockade on the Gaza Strip for the majority of the past three years, since the ouster of President Muhammad Morsi in 2013 and the rise to power of Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt.
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 Morsi was toppled by the Egyptian army.
Due to the constraints on Palestinian movement through the crossing, many are commonly barred from leaving or entering the Gaza Strip, some for months at a time, as the crossing is only periodically opened by Egyptian authorities, stranding Palestinians on both sides of the crossing during closures.
In 2015, the Rafah crossing was closed for 344 days. The crossing has been reopened on a more regular basis in 2016.
The Rafah border crossing was most recently opened in early July, when some 3,099 people left Gaza during the five-day opening for humanitarian purposes.
Last year, Egypt let some 500 Gazan pilgrims through Rafah to perform the Hajj.
The nearly nine-year Israeli blockade has plunged the Gaza Strip’s more than 1.8 million Palestinians into poverty. The destruction from three Israeli offensives over the past six years and slow reconstruction due to the blockade led the UN in September to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.