Egypt Opens Rafah Crossing

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The huge barb-wired fences that used to separate Egypt from the Gaza Strip have finally been opened. The barrier, which completely encircles the Gaza Strip, was erected between 1994 and 2005 in accordance with the Oslo Accords and the Interim Agreement on the Gaza Strip and Westbank signed by the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The barrier was torn down by fighting and replaced in 2001, and soldiers have the authority to shoot and kill anyone they see trying to cross without permission. The Strip is controlled by Hamas, a military political organization. The Gaza Strip has been, since 2005, effectively shut off from the outside world.

Of the five border crossings into the Gaza Strip only three are for pedestrian use. The Rafah crossing has been controlled by Egypt since2005 when Israel withdrew its troops from the Strip. The crossing was closed when Hamas took over control of the Strip in 2007. During the Battle of Gaza in the same year six thousand Palestinian refugees streamed across the border and were subsequently stuck when Hamas would not allow them to return. The change of border control had done nothing to stop the fighting, and just brought another combatant into the fray.

In 2009 Egypt opened the crossing for 72 hours to allow medical patients and those with foreign residency to flee the country. 5000 people signed up to be given permission to leave. Since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak earlier this year trucks have been able to make the crossing in the several hours per week that the border has been opened. There have been in recent months increased communication between Egypt and Hamas, which led to a reconciliation deal signed in Cairo in the past month.

The border was officially and permanently opened on May 28, 2011, with fewer restrictions of who could pass through. All women are now exempt from requiring a visa to enter Egypt, as well as men between the ages of 18 and 40, who previously had to go through a nearly impossible process. This comes in the wake of massive Israeli government protests. Despite the condemnation, Egypt’s interim government has recognized that the blockade was inhumane and shameful. Medical staff have been placed at the crossing to examine travellers and facilitate their admittance into Egyptian hospitals if need be.

In total about 500 people crossed the border, with only 31 being returned to the Strip for security reasons. These numbers will likely increase as Palestinians realize that the crossing is open for good. The opening will help to greatly improve the lives of Gazans, allowing more food, fuel and supplies to be brought into the area.

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