Palestinians protest at Rafah border, demand Egypt lifts restrictions

Ahram Online, Sunday 29 Sep 2013

Egyptian restrictions at the Rafah border have reduced the number of people crossing the border with the Gaza Strip

Rafah border
Passengers hoping to cross into Egypt show their passports to a Palestinian policeman as they wait at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip September 29, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Tight restrictions by Egyptian authorities at the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip provoked protests at the crossing on Sunday.

Hundreds of Palestinian students stormed the Gazan side of the Rafah border chanting: “we’re just travelers, not terrorists.”

The protesters were prevented from reaching the border crossing area by Palestinian security forces, reported Turkish news agency Anadolu.

Gazan officials say that only 14,000 residents have been able to cross into Egypt over the past three months, compared to 65,000 in the same period last year.

On 15 August, Egypt closed the Rafah crossing "indefinitely," citing security fears due to unrest following the removal of president Mohamed Morsi in July. Since then, Egyptian authorities have been opening the crossing for “emergency” cases sporadically and with reduced hours.

Many students from Gaza risking losing scholarships to study abroad if they are unable to leave the Gaza Strip via the border with Egypt.

On Wednesday, the Palestinian ambassador in Egypt, Barakat Al-Farra, said that the crossing will be open from Saturday to Monday for emergencies, including “students, and those with essential and humanitarian needs.” However, some Palestinian students reported on Twitter that they had not been granted entry despite having the necessary documents.

Head of the Gazan border authority Maher Abu Sabha said on Sunday that Egypt’s recent order to open the crossing for emergencies is “propaganda” and called on Egypt to lift the restrictions, reported AP.

According to Abu Sabha, at least 5,500 people are stranded in Gaza, including those needing to travel for medical care and students trying to return to universities abroad.

Russia Today reported on Sunday that a newborn baby died at the border, his mother having been denied entry to the Gaza Strip the night before.

The Rafah crossing is the only border with Hamas-run Gaza that is not controlled by Israel.

Tensions have been on the rise between the Egyptian government and Hamas – an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood – since Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, was ousted on 3 July amid mass protests against his one-year rule.

Egyptian army spokesperson Ahmed Ali stated last week that the military had confiscated munitions in north Sinai bearing the stamp of the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military arm. He also said there was “cooperation between armed, terrorist organisations [in Sinai] and their counterparts in the Gaza Strip.”

Hamas has denied these claims, describing them as “lies and fabrications.”

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