Egyptian authorities closed the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the besieged Gaza Strip early on Sunday morning, after opening the crossing to allow the return of Palestinian pilgrims who had traveled to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj.
Egyptian authorities on Sunday exceptionally opened the Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip to allow Palestinian pilgrims to cross into the blockaded territory, Anadolu Agency reported.
“The terminal was opened for one day to allow 500 pilgrims to return to the Gaza Strip,” Hisham Odwan, the director of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, told Anadolu Agency.
He said the terminal will be reopened again on Wednesday for three days to allow more Palestinian pilgrims to return to Gaza.
The Palestinian embassy in Cairo earlier said the Rafah crossing will be open as of Wednesday for three days to allow more than 2,000 pilgrims to return to Gaza.
Palestinians in Gaza must receive permission from the Egyptian government to go on the Hajj pilgrimage, as the airport in Cairo is the only avenue Gazans have to travel abroad.
Fully blockaded by Israel since 2007, when Palestinian group Hamas wrested control of the territory, the Gaza Strip has seven border crossings linking it to the outside world.
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, most Palestinians are commonly barred from leaving or entering the Gaza Strip, sometimes 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.
Egyptian authorities opened the crossing for three days in August in order to facilitate the passage of Hajj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, as some 2,008 Gazans received visas to use the Cairo airport for international travel.
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.