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For 4th consecutive day, Rafah crossing opened for hajj pilgrims, humanitarian cases

Aug. 17, 2017 2:52 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 17, 2017 4:48 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Egyptian authorities continued to open the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip for the fourth day in a row on Thursday, allowing Palestinian pilgrims travelling to perform the Muslim hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, as well as specific “humanitarian cases” to exit through the border.

Head of the Public Relations department at the Rafah crossing Hisham Adwan told Ma’an that 550 pilgrims were scheduled to leave the Gaza Strip on Thursday, in addition to 200 humanitarian cases.

Gaza’s borders and crossings committee said earlier this week that some 2,500 residents of Gaza had been granted permission to go to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca this year, adding that some 800 people were expected to go through on Monday alone.

The crossing was last opened in early May, more than three months ago. The long-term closures at Rafah contradict Egyptian claims made back in March, when sources claimed that Egyptian President Abd al Fattah al-Sisi himself had ordered for Rafah to be opened twice a month in order to lessen the siege on Gaza.

Without access to the Rafah crossing, many Palestinians in Gaza depend on the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing to exit the besieged territory. However, the number of Israeli exit permits granted to Palestinians from Gaza has dropped “dramatically,” Israeli NGO Gisha noted earlier this month, with the number of permits given monthly by Israel dropping to just half the amount issued in 2016.

“After a decade of closure, which has failed entirely in achieving its objectives, and even once Israel announced that it would ease restrictions on exiting and entering Gaza, freedom of movement for residents of Gaza has only declined and the closure has only tightened,” the group stated.

Egypt has upheld an Israeli military blockade on the Gaza Strip 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 in the past four years.

Due to the constraints on Palestinian movement, 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.

According to the United Nations, during 2016, the Rafah crossing was partially opened for only 44 days. In 2015, the crossing had only been open for 21 days.

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

Policies imposed by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority -- including cutting the electricity supply and reducing medical referrals for residents in Gaza seeking treatment outside the territory -- in order to wrest control of the besieged territory from the Hamas movement have also adversely impacted everyday life for Gaza's residents.

In 2012, the UN warned that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020 if current trends were not altered. However, in a report released in July, the UN said that “life for the average Palestinian in Gaza is getting more and more wretched,” adding that, for the majority of Gaza's residents, the territory may already be unlivable.

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