Thousands Cross From Gaza Into Egypt as Border Opens for Short While

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi reportedly decides to open Rafah crossing following a request from PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

A Palestinian woman cries as she asks for a travel permit to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip February 15, 2016.
Reuters

More than 2,800 people crossed from the Gaza Strip into Egypt at the Rafah crossing, which was opened on Saturday for the first time since December and closed on Monday, sources in Gaza and Egypt said.

The Palestinian border authority also said that the Egyptians had permitted 64 trucks into Gaza carrying cement, gravel and other construction materials, which were transferred by the Qatari government.

According to figures provided by the Palestinian border authority, 522 people crossed via Rafah from Egypt to Gaza on Saturday, and 558 people went from Gaza to Egypt, some on their way to other destinations. It was also reported that on Sunday, 460 people went from Egypt to the Gaza Strip and 742 people went the other way, and on Monday, 51 people entered Gaza from Egypt and 550 people left the Strip for Egypt.

Sources in Egypt said that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi had decided to open the crossing after receiving a request from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and after having received a report on reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas.

Many Palestinians said the opening of the Rafah crossing was a gesture of good will on Sissi’s part in recognition of reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas, while others said Sissi’s decision was an attempt to bypass the Qataris and work opposite the Palestinian Authority, rather than Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

Egypt, under Sissi’s control for the past two years, considers Hamas and its military wing to be a terror group and a party to attacks on Egyptian forces in Sinai. To deal with this threat, the Egyptians have taken strong action, among other ways by closing the Rafah crossing for extended periods, destroying hundreds of tunnels and establishing a buffer zone between Egyptian Rafah and the Gaza side.

Egypt conditioned easing Palestinian movement into its territory through the Rafah crossing on the establishment of a force manned by the presidential guard, one of the Palestinian Authority’s security arms, and subject to Abbas’ authority, which would be stationed on the Gaza side of the crossing instead of Hamas. The Egyptians conveyed a message to this effect to the Hamas government in Gaza and to Israel as far back as 2014.

Egypt does not want direct contact with Hamas security representatives, but rather wants all communications with the Palestinian side to go through PA representatives, who according to this plan would return to the Gaza Strip for the first time since they were violently removed by Hamas in June 2007.

Until the first part of 2013, the Rafah crossing was open almost daily, in keeping with security considerations, with an average of 20,348 departures to Egypt and 20,468 entries to Gaza. Only in the second half of 2013, after the Muslim Brotherhood was deposed in Egypt and Sissi rose to power, did crossings at Rafah decline considerably.