Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border opened briefly on 25, 26 and 27 June allowing Gaza patients in need of emergency care, students, and foreign visa holders to exit.
Rafah has been almost completely closed since Hamas took over in Gaza in June 2007, according to Hamada Al-Bayari from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Gaza.
During the three-day opening, 1,865 passengers were allowed through and 610 turned back, according to Ghazi Hamad, the Gaza government’s head of borders and crossings.
Hamad said he was told by the Egyptians that from now on Rafah would open three days a month. “I, of course, asked for more, especially for medical patients,” he said.
Those leaving this time included 540 patients accompanied by 424 family members, 81 students, 122 business people, 1,083 people visiting family and friends, four tourists, four commercial traders, and 217 people with residency abroad.
Just over 3,000 Palestinian passport holders were allowed to cross into Gaza from Egypt, Hamad said.
Five truck-loads of medical aid (three from the United Arab Emirates and two from Qatar) were allowed into Gaza, said Hamad, adding that some other trucks were turned away.
Each month 800-1,000 people need to travel out of Gaza for medical care, the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) health officer in Gaza, Mahmoud Daher, told IRIN earlier.
Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh visited the crossing during the opening, announcing his administration’s willingness to operate it according to procedures agreed with the Egyptian authorities, the European Union (EU), and Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential guard under the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.
Hamad said the Hamas administration was adhering to the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access in the operation of the Rafah crossing.
“We would welcome the return of the European presence on the border,” said Hamad, “and would allow Israeli surveillance [of the crossing].”
At least six parties have an interest in the operation of Rafah – the Hamas government, the PA in the West Bank, Egypt, Israel, the EU and the USA.
Diplomats and UN agencies in Gaza are unsure who really controls Rafah. Israel says it no longer has a presence there or any control. Hamas officials say Egypt now has full control.
Mohammed Al-Aish, aged 24, a Gaza health ministry employee, returned to Gaza after visiting his father in Abu Dhabi.
“The conditions were harsh, the Egyptian authorities restricted our movement in Cairo airport and at the [Rafah] crossing,” said Al-Aish, adding that passengers with referrals from the PA in the West Bank were allowed to move freely in Egypt.
“We had no access to food or water during the day-and-a-half-long journey,” he said.
Some analysts say the PA in Ramallah, Israel and Egypt would all like to prevent Hamas from gaining control over Rafah.