A Palestinian boy standing by a gate looks on as he waits for the return of his relatives after performing the annual Haj pilgrimage in Mecca, at Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, September 13, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Friday that he ordered the Rafah crossing to remain open throughout Ramadan.
Rafah, the sole pedestrian passageway between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, has not been open for an entire month in several years.
Since 2013, Egypt has usually only opened the crossing for several days every few months. But before Sisi’s announcement, the crossing had been open for approximately a week.
“I ordered the relevant authorities to do what is necessary to keep the Rafah crossing open during the holy month of Ramadan,” Sisi tweeted early Friday morning. “[This decision] is to lighten the burdens of the brothers in the Gaza Strip.”
The decision to extend the opening of the crossing for a month took place a few days after Hamas Politburo Chairman Ismail Haniyeh met in Cairo with Egyptian Intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.
Haniyeh said that Palestinians were “seeing the results” of his visit “through these steps,” alluding to Egypt’s decision to keep Rafah open.
He did not say that he reached a deal with Kamel to keep the crossing open in return for Hamas de-escalating protests in the border region between Israel and Gaza. However, the protests in the border region have become substantially smaller in the past several days.
Last Monday, following Haniyeh’s return from Cairo, Israeli security forces killed more than 60 Palestinians at major protests at the border region, according to Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Health Ministry.
But on Tuesday, only relatively small and scattered protests were held, even though Hamas officials had previously said a major protest was planned for that day.
Small protests also took place on Friday.
Nonetheless, Haniyeh said there was no decision to stop the protests and vowed they would continue in the coming days. The IDF has described the protests as “violent riots,” asserting that protesters have tried to pass into its territory, thrown Molotov cocktails and rocks at and opened fire on its security personnel and placed explosive devices near the border fence.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza including students, business people and ill persons are on a waiting list to travel from Gaza to Egypt through Rafah. Palestinian officials have said Egypt frequently keeps the crossing closed because of the unstable security situation in the Sinai Peninsula. Israel also controls a pedestrian crossing with Gaza, the Erez crossing. While the country allows people to pass through it daily, it strictly limits the number of people who can do so. The IDF holds that the restrictions are for security purposes.