Rafah, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Egyptian authorities have decided to re-open the Rafah Border Crossing for a period of three days starting from 3 January 2010. Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side of the border interviewed by Asharq Al-Awsat said that they would be spending New Year’s Eve on the border [as a result of this]. They also expressed their concern about the possibility of this 3-day re-opening being suspended due to potential tensions between Hamas and Cairo in light of the Egyptian construction of a [steel] wall along the Egypt – Gaza border.
Asharq Al-Awsat visited the Rafah Border Crossing yesterday where a number of stranded Palestinians were seeking entry into the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of other Palestinians remain stranded in Egyptian cities like El-Arish and El-Sheikh Zuwaid, waiting for the re-opening of the border crossing and the opportunity to return to Gaza.
A Palestinian woman, Umm Adham, age 52, told Asharq Al-Awsat “My son’s wife and I arrived in El-Arish two days ago after visiting him in an Arab country; I heard that the Border Crossing would be open today…so I came here quickly but I found the Border Crossing closed and they will not allow us to cross.” She added “I hoped to celebrate the New Year with my husband and the children [in Gaza].”
Umm Adham told Asharq Al-Awsat “The officials at the [Rafah] Border Crossing told us that it will not be opened to allow the entry of the stranded Palestinians for another week, and they [the Palestinians] can only enter if they have special permits.”
As for Ibrahim Salim, age 32, who is returning to the Gaza Strip to spend his annual holiday with his family, he said “I bring many new year gifts to my three children who I have not seen for almost 2 years, and I planned well to ensure that I am inside the Gaza Strip at the end of the year as Egypt traditionally opens the border to the stranded Palestinians once every month, but this has not happened so far.”
There are around 500 Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side of the border, but this number is expected to increase to around 800 Palestinians over the next few days following the announcement of the re-opening of the Border Crossing.
The stranded Palestinians are afraid that Egypt may postpone the re-opening of the Border Crossing for next week due to the current tensions with Hamas as a result of the construction [of the steel wall] that is taking place on the Gaza Border.
An old Palestinian man named Abu Hatem said “I am afraid that if the situation continues and the Palestinian demonstrations against the construction of the [steel] wall carry on, Egypt will increase its security procedures and suspend the re-opening of the border, especially as the coming days will witness many events inside Gaza on the anniversary of the Israeli war on Gaza.”
However an Egyptian official at the Rafah Border Crossing confirmed that the Egyptian authorities would open the border crossing on 3 January 2010 for three days, allowing the Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side to cross over into Gaza, they will also allow students, those who hold [Egyptian] residences, and humanitarian cases, into Egypt, provided that they possess the appropriate documentation.