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Palestinian vehicles pass from Egypt into Gaza for first time in years

Dec. 18, 2016 10:35 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 18, 2016 7:35 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- For the first time in several years, Egyptian authorities allowed Palestinian vehicles to travel into Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah border crossing on Sunday morning.

Palestinian security sources in Gaza told Ma'an that 40 vehicles passed through the Rafah crossing into Palestinian territory on Sunday morning.

Sources added that allowing the entry of vehicles was a “positive step” taken by Egypt, and would serve as great a benefit for the more than 1.8 million people living under blockade in the coastal enclave, who typically travel in buses back and forth through the crossing.

Egypt opened the Rafah crossing on Sunday for the second of a three-day opening to allow the entry of “humanitarian cases” -- including patients, students, and holders of visas from foreign countries -- from Gaza into Egypt.

The Gaza borders and crossings committee said in a statement that more than 600 passengers left the Gaza Strip to Egypt on Saturday, while 82 Palestinians arrived in Gaza from Egypt.

Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities denied entry to 68 passengers from Gaza without explanation.

Egyptian authorities had announced on Thursday that they would be opening the Rafah crossing for three days starting on Saturday, with security sources telling Ma’an that the decision to open the border came upon order from Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi “to lessen the siege on the Gaza Strip by opening the crossing twice a month.”

Egypt has upheld an Israeli military blockade on the Gaza Strip for the majority of the past three years, since the ousting of former President Muhammad Morsi in 2013 and al-Sisi's rise to power.

While the Egyptian border has remained the main lifeline for Gazans to the outside world, Egyptian authorities have slowly sealed off movement through the border since Morsi was toppled by the Egyptian army.

Due to the constraints on Palestinian movement through the crossing, many Gazans are commonly barred from leaving or entering the besieged coastal enclave, some for months at a time, as the crossing is only periodically opened by Egyptian authorities, stranding Palestinians on both sides of the crossing during closures.

In 2015, the Rafah crossing was closed for 344 days. The crossing has been reopened on a more regular basis since the beginning of 2016.

The near decade-long Israeli blockade has plunged the Gaza Strip’s nearly two million Palestinians into extreme poverty and one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.

Gaza's infrastructure has yet to recover from the devastation of three Israeli offensives over the past six years. The slow and sometimes stagnant reconstruction of the besieged coastal enclave has only been worsened by the blockade, leading the UN in 2015 to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.

Edit: The article initially reported erroneously that Egyptian authorities allowed vehicles to travel from Gaza into Egypt instead of the other way around. Ma'an News regrets the error.
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