Egyptian authorities have decided to keep the Rafah border crossing open for six days next week.
The border crossing will be opened in both directions on Saturday, 2 November and will remain open until Thursday, 7 November, with the exception of one day in which the crossing will be shut. It will be shut on the day of the start of the Hijri New Year, celebrated by Muslims, which is an official holiday.
The announcement was made by Barakat Al-Farra, Palestine’s Ambassador to Egypt, in a statement published on the embassy’s website on Tuesday.
The Deputy Director of the border crossing, Sherif Abdallah said the reason Egypt will open the crossing is because of the “humanitarian conditions.”
The crossing had been shut last on Saturday after it was kept open for a week for pilgrims returning to the Gaza Strip from Hajj in Saudi Arabia.
It is estimated that there are 4,000 people inside the Gaza Strip who need to leave the strip. Disruptions in the opening and closing of the crossing mainly affects students who study in Egypt or universities elsewhere, people who work and live outside Gaza and people with serious health conditions, like heart disease and cancer, who primarily rely on Egyptian hospitals for treatment.
The ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July was followed by a surge in militancy in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Ever since the ouster Egypt has been repeatedly opening and shutting down the border crossing with Egyptian officials often citing “security reasons.”
After Morsi’s ouster, Egypt introduced a policy which reduced the number of people who can cross from 1,200 to only 300 a day, a policy criticized by Gaza’s ruler, Hamas.
Egypt has also intensified a crackdown on the illegal underground tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza border which are vital the strip’s residents who have been living under a land, air and sea blockade since 2007.
Towards the end of July United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert H. Serry said some reports suggested that the Egyptian Army’s crackdown led to 80% of the tunnels being put out of operation.
A report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for the period 8 to 21 October said that compared to June, the amount of goods transported through the illegal tunnels that connect Egypt to the Gaza Strip “constitutes only 7.5% of the amount of goods that entered via the tunnels per day prior to June 2013.”
The removal of Morsi has also signaled the rise of tensions between Hamas and Egypt. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said last month that there are doubts regarding Hamas and “other Islamic movements in Gaza” in relation to “the terrorist activity in Sinai.” He warned that tough responses, including military action, would follow if Egypt feels Hamas poses a threat to its national security.
The Deputy Head of Hamas’s political bureau Ismail Haniyeh denied such associations, adding that Hamas was “not party to any incident that took place or that is taking place in Sinai.” He also said he expects siege and restrictions from the occupying enemy and that “we expect support and cooperation from those who share our history,” he added in a reference to Egypt.