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Palestinians protest Egypt's closure of Gaza crossing

Egyptian authorities cite concerns about security and weapons smuggling as the reason behind the border restrictions

AFP and Ahram Online, Friday 28 Feb 2014
Rafah border crossing on Egypt-Gaza border (Photo: Reuters)

Hundreds of Palestinians protested Friday in front of the Rafah border crossing, demanding Egyptian authorities reopen the crossing.

“We demand the Egyptian authorities open the Gaza crossing permanently in both directions and we affirm that we won’t stop our peaceful escalation on Palestinian land until the [Israeli] siege is lifted,” said Hamad El-Rakeb, a leading member of Hamas, during the protest. 

The crossing, Gaza’s only open border due to the ongoing Israeli siege of the strip, has frequently been closed by Egyptian authorities in recent months.

Egypt argues that the closures are necessary to limit possible weapons smuggling into Sinai, a troubled region with a pronounced security void.

Since the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president Mohamed Morsi in July, Egyptian interim authorities have maintained an uneasy relationship with Hamas -- an ideological offshoot of the Brotherhood -- which has ruled Gaza since 2007.

Hamas officials -- who deny having any armed presence in Egyptian territory -- have complained that Egypt has limited the number of daily passengers from 1,200 to only 300 since Morsi’s ouster on 3 July.

In retaliation for the Islamist president's ouster, near daily terrorist attacks have targeted army and police personnel in Sinai.

Egypt is also waging a campaign to demolish a network of smuggling tunnels that supply weapons and goods to the Gaza Strip, which is partially besieged by Israel. 

The absence of tunnels has led to severe fuel shortages and price rises in consumer commodities in the enclave. Fuel purchased from Israel costs almost double the price of that brought in from Egypt via the tunnels. Construction has also been hit hard by restrictions on the smuggling of building materials, decimating economic growth.

According to Hamas, the closure of the tunnels has cost the nation $230 million in monthly losses.

The Rafah crossing was also closed at the start of Morsi's rule in early August 2012, after 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed and seven injured in a militant attack near the border.

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