Egypt opens Gaza border crossing 'indefinitely'

Rafah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) –


Egypt on Tuesday opened its border crossing with the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, "indefinitely" allowing the coastal strip's people passage to the outside world, a security source said.

Gaza residents crossing the Rafah border point on Tuesday expressed a mixture of relief and bitterness.

"I've been waiting for six months for the crossing to open," university student Ibrahim al-Shanti, 19, told AFP.

"The repeated closures have cost me a semester of my studies. I hope it's really permanent."

Cairo took the step while hosting talks between Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which runs the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The rival movements, along with other Palestinian factions, are discussing holding parliamentary and presidential votes later this year, their first in 15 years.

The Rafah crossing has been largely closed in recent months as part of efforts to rein in the coronavirus pandemic, although it has intermittently opened for short periods.

An Egyptian security source told AFP that "this isn't a routine or normal opening. This is the first time in years that the Rafah border crossing is opening indefinitely. It used to open only three or four days at a time."

Gaza is a densely populated enclave with some two million residents, half of whom live below the poverty line, and which suffers frequent shortages of clean water, electricity and medicine.

Another Palestinian, Yasser Zanoun, 50, urged political leaders to negotiate a permanent arrangement to ease Gaza's worsening humanitarian plight, compounded by the pandemic.

"This crossing must be open 24 hours a day, throughout the year," he said. "There are lots of humanitarian cases that are extremely dire."

- 'Life with dignity' -

Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza in 2005 but controls the territory's borders and land crossings with Israel that have been closed for months.

The Islamist movement Hamas won an unexpected landslide in a 2006 Gaza vote, a victory not recognised by president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah.

The split led to bloody clashes the following year and a split in Palestinian governance. Since then Egypt has intermittently closed the Rafah crossing.

Hamas has links to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was in power in Egypt until its 2013 ouster by the current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Egypt has recently cited the Covid-19 pandemic threat to keep the border closed.

Gaza has reported more than 50,000 cases, including some 530 deaths, while Egypt has reported over 170,000 cases including almost 9,700 deaths.

Palestinian Mohammed Abdo, 34, who was preparing to cross to Egypt on Tuesday, said he hoped the gates would not slam shut again any time soon.

"We ask the delegation to the Cairo talks to push for the border to remain open so that life can be life ... with dignity and health," he said.