A Palestinian boy is seen at the Rafah crossing on the Egypt-Gaza border..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For the first time in more than three months, Egypt opened the Rafah crossing, to allow some 2,500 Gazans to partake in the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Rafah crossing was last opened in early May, for Gazans to return home, while it was most recently opened for Gazans to leave the Strip in March.
More than 1,000 Gazans traveled to Mecca through the Rafah crossing on Monday and Tuesday and hundreds of others are slated to make the trip on Wednesday and Thursday, according to al-Rai, an official Hamas media outlet.
Hamas officials including the Gaza Strip’s Deputy Interior Minister Tawfiq Abu Naim on Monday wished pilgrims well before they left for Cairo, where they boarded flights to Saudi Arabia, al-Rai reported.
Gaza’s Interior Ministry announced on Tuesday that Egypt would permit “humanitarian cases” to travel to Egypt through Rafah on Wednesday and Thursday in addition to allowing Gazans currently in Egypt and elsewhere to return to the Strip.
Since the ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, Cairo has seldom opened the Rafah crossing. The crossing was open for 42 days in 2016 and for 18 days in 2017 as of Tuesday, according to Gisha, an Israeli NGO that tracks human rights issues in Gaza. Some 30,000 Gazans including students, business people and ill persons are on a waiting list to travel from Gaza to Egypt.
According to Hamas officials, Egypt may open the Rafah crossing more regularly in the coming months pending the completion of renovations to its infrastructure and a review of the security situation there.
Senior Hamas officials and Egyptian intelligence officials met in Cairo a number of times over the past two-and-a-half months.
The only other exit for Gazans to the outside world is through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing. Israel decreased the number of permits it granted Gazans to leave the Strip in the first half of 2017 by 55% compared to the same period in 2016, Gisha said in a July report. Israel granted an average of 6,302 permits per month in the first half of 2017 compared to 14,000 per month in the first half of 2016, the report found.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit, the branch of the Defense Ministry responsible for issuing permits to Gazans to travel through Erez, said it has not made any changes to its exit permit regime in the past year and blamed Hamas and internal Palestinian conflicts for the drop in permits issued.
“No change in the Gaza Strip’s pedestrian crossings policy to and from Israel has been made, as we coordinate the crossing of hundreds of residents through Erez crossing on a daily basis for a variety of needs... Reoccurring attempts by the terrorist organization Hamas to take advantage of the crossing permits for the purpose of harming Israel’s security, alongside internal Palestinian reasons from the terrorist regime in the Gaza Strip, have led to a decrease in the crossings,” COGAT said in an emailed statement.
A Gaza City resident, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post
on condition of anonymity, said his brother, who has not returned to Gaza in four years, plans to enter through the Rafah crossing on Thursday.
According the Gaza City resident, his brother, who is working on a doctorate in architectural design in Germany, is concerned he will not be able to leave Gaza after he arrives on Thursday.
“He doesn’t know if he will be able to leave Gaza through Rafah to fly back to Germany, but our parents are becoming old and he told me, ‘I’m coming. I need to see them before they die,’” the Gaza City resident said.