Egyptian authorities closed the Rafah crossing with the besieged Gaza Strip on Friday after an exceptional four-day opening made for the passage of Palestinian pilgrims traveling to perform the Muslim hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Gaza’s borders and crossings committee said earlier this week that some 2,500 residents of Gaza had been granted permission to go to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca this year, adding that some 800 people were expected to go through on Monday alone.
The crossing was last opened in early May, more than three months ago. The long-term closures at Rafah contradict Egyptian claims made back in March, when sources claimed that Egyptian President Abd al Fattah al-Sisi himself had ordered for Rafah to be opened twice a month in order to lessen the siege on Gaza.
Without access to the Rafah crossing, many Palestinians in Gaza depend on the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing to exit the besieged territory. However, the number of Israeli exit permits granted to Palestinians from Gaza has dropped “dramatically,” Israeli NGO Gisha noted earlier this month, with the number of permits given monthly by Israel dropping to just half the amount issued in 2016.
According to the United Nations, during 2016, the Rafah crossing was partially opened for only 44 days. In 2015, the crossing had only been open for 21 days.
The decade-long Israeli blockade has plunged the Gaza Strip’s two million Palestinians into extreme poverty and one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.
In 2012, the UN warned that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020 if current trends were not altered. However, in a report released in July, the UN said that “life for the average Palestinian in Gaza is getting more and more wretched,” adding that, for the majority of Gaza’s residents, the territory may already be unlivable.