Grim Prospects for Stranded Palestinians

By Anne-Beatrice Clasmann in Rafah

Heat, hopelessness and the feeling of having been abandoned are what Mohammed Sukkar, 32, must continue to endure for the foreseeable future.

Yet 12 days ago when his father died at home in the Gaza Strip and he wasn’t able to attend his burial, he made a desperate attempt to charge the wall that separates Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

Its barbed wire and slippery surface proved insurmountable however and he now sits, defeated, on a mat in the Egyptian part of Rafah.

Sukkar is one of 6,000 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who have been stranded in Sinai for seven weeks since the radical Islamist Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip and Egypt closed its only border crossing at Rafah, in the north-east corner of the Sinai peninsula.

The stranded Palestinians direct their fury in turn at Israel, at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Egyptian government, and at Hamas who wrested control of the Gaza Strip in five days of savage fighting with gunmen from the more moderate Fatah movement led by Abbas.

They are sick of all the players in the conflict and feel that they have become a political football in the power struggle.

In Rafah and the neighbouring city of El-Arish some 40 kilometres west of the Rafah crossing, the marooned Palestinians are housed in mosques, schools, ruins, cheap hotels and some private houses placed at their disposal by Egyptians.

The Muslim Brotherhood and humanitarian organizations distribute food to alleviate the hardship caused by a crisis with no end in sight.

"Every day when I ring the government in Ramallah, they say that negotiations are ongoing concerning our return, but nothing actually happens," said one policeman who is a member of Fatah.

There are various theories doing the rounds in Rafah including one that Abbas and the Egyptians want the border crossing kept closed until they can wring some concessions from Hamas.

"Our fate is in the hands of Abbas who is putting pressure on Hamas at the expense of our health," Bushra Abu Sobeih says.

The 26-year-old teacher is six months pregnant and is living in the house of Abdul Satar al-Ghalban, a Palestinian who lives in Rafah and who with Egyptian approval has emerged as a spokesman.

Abu Sobeih has two young children waiting for her back in Gaza. "I have to get back," she says. She has had to spend the money she had saved for the journey.

The Gaza Strip relatives of those stranded have been demonstrating for the opening of the border and some Palestinians would like to open the only gate to the outside world with force.

Al-Ghalban says that they have asked Hamas not to destroy the border crossing as that would lead to utter chaos.

He says that over 30 Palestinians housed in emergency accommodation in Sinai have died owing to poor medical services. Many of those stranded are sick people and their families who had travelled to Cairo for medical treatment in Eygptian hospitals.

Sarhan al-Shoheiber fears for the health of his brother who has had a kidney transplant in Cairo. The exhausted man is wearing a protective mask around his mouth and rests against the back on a plastic chair. It is 41 degrees Celsius in the shade. The brothers are desperate to get home at any cost including by the coastal route or through the Karem Shalom border crossing

For Abu Nisar, who is camping with his wife, two children and his elderly mother in a half-finished house in Rafah, crossing the Israeli-controlled border of Karem Shalom, which the Arabs call Karem Abu Salem, would be a treacherous act.

In his view, 200 martyrs have died so that the Palestinians could have a border crossing at Rafah with European observers apart from Arabs and Israelis.

He would consider it a betrayal to go through an Israeli border crossing where half the people would be arrested, he says.

Abu Nisar has no television. He has not seen the Arabic news channel al-Arabiya’s reports from the Iraqi-Syrian border where stranded Palestinians driven from Iraq by extremists are now living in tents in the desert, waiting for Syria to take them in.

(DPA- Releif Web – July 30, 2007)

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