Egypt opens Gaza crossing after 5 years

A Palestinian boy rests his head on his family’s suitcases as he waits to pass through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. Most of the Palestinians leaving Gaza through Egypt do so in order to reach third-country destinations. — Courtesy photo

RAFAH CROSSING — Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing this week for the first time in five months. Israel controls the only other way in and out of the Gaza Strip, and has placed more and more restrictions on Palestinians who want to come and go in recent months.

Egypt allowed the passage of pilgrims, humanitarian cases, and Gazans stranded in Egypt to pass through the border this week. The border closed again on Friday, after five days, according to Gaza-based Palestinian news site PalToday. There are a reported 30,000 Palestinians on a waiting list to leave the Strip via Egypt.

The five-month closure of Rafah marked the longest consecutive closure since 2007, according to Gisha, an Israeli organization that promotes Palestinian freedom of movement. Between 2011 and 2013, around 40,000 people crossed the border to and from Egypt every month, according to the rights group.

Egypt clamped down on the border following that country’s military coup which ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, a political movement affiliated with Hamas, which rules over the Gaza Strip.

Israel has also vastly reduced the number of Gazans it allows to leave the besieged coastal enclave recently. According to Gisha, the number of Palestinians who exited Gaza via Israel dropped 55 percent in the first half of 2017, from a monthly average of 14,000 in the first half of 2016 to 6,302 a year later.

In addition, Israel also recently imposed new restrictions on how long Gazans can leave and what they can bring with them. Earlier this month, the Israeli army banned Palestinians leaving the strip from bringing with them any electronic devices other than cellular phones, any food, and any toiletries. This week, The Times of Israel reported that Israel was also making Palestinians leaving Gaza sign an agreement saying that they will not return for a year.

This year marks a decade since the start of Israel’s siege on the Gaza Strip. Despite the 2006 withdrawal of settlers and ground troops, the Israeli army controls Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, as well as all of its land crossings save for Rafah, controlled by Egypt and closed on all but the rarest of occasions. Gaza’s exports and imports are also controlled by Israel, as is the movement of people — residents and otherwise — in and out of the enclave.

The Israeli blockade, which prevents exports, economic development and importing building material not previously approved by Tel Aviv, and which includes firing at fishermen and farmers who approach Israeli army-imposed no-go zones, has turned the Strip into what many describe as an open-aired prison.

Earlier this summer, Israel cut Gaza’s electricity supply, leaving much of the Palestinian population there without electricity for the vast majority of the day and night, and all but stopping vital services like sewage treatment and emergency medical care. A multilateral deal reached by Hamas, former Fastah official Mohamed Dahlan and Egypt is supposed to lead to an easing of Egypt’s role in the blockade next month. As part of the deal, Egypt is expected to provide Gaza with more fuel for electricity, and to allow more Palestinians to enter and exit Gaza via the Rafah crossing. — Agencies