Rafah sees record crossings

The Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border opened for five days this month, the longest continued period since Hamas seized power in the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip in June 2007.



From 3-8 August, Egyptian border authorities allowed 4,317 passengers to leave Gaza and turned back 763, Ghazi Hamad, head of Gaza’s borders and crossings authority, told IRIN. In addition, 3,311 passengers were permitted entry to Gaza from Egypt.



In June, Rafah opened for three days, when 1,865 passengers were allowed through and 610 turned back.



According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Gaza, 484 passengers exited and 898 entered Gaza via Rafah during July, with special permission from Egyptian authorities.



Passengers included about 500 Gaza patients needing emergency care, students and foreign visa holders. More than 7,000 Palestinians in Gaza were registered with the authorities to travel, Hamad said.



After meetings with Egyptian intelligence in July, “there is an understanding that Rafah will open about once per month”, said Hamad.



“Egyptian officials agreed to facilitate the movement of buses across the border, to increase the number of passengers allowed to leave and to decrease the number turned back,” Hamad added.



Buses carrying the infirm and children usually wait for hours at the Egyptian gate before crossing.



“We are being humiliated on the Egyptian side of the border; they pack us in buses like sardines while medical patients die waiting for permission to cross,” said Sauson (declining to give her last name), 34, a passenger returning to Gaza after visiting family in the UAE.



“The passage of people into and out of Gaza remains strictly limited – only those classified as medical or humanitarian cases can cross via Rafah with special authorization by the Palestinian authorities in Gaza and Egyptian authorities,” according to Hamada Al-Bayari from OCHA in Gaza. “Rafah has been officially closed since June 2007.”



Hamad said the Hamas administration was adhering to the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) in operating the Rafah crossing. 



“In the first six months of 2006, between the signing of the AMA and the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Rafah crossing was open daily for an average of 9.5 hours per day and an average of 650 passengers were permitted to cross each way [a total of 1,300],” Al-Bayari said.



es/at/mw