Rafah border crossing suddenly closed as Palestinians anxiously try to enter

Saleh Naami and reuters, Saturday 4 Jun 2011

Hundreds of Palestinians chant in Rafah to be allowed to cross the border that Egypt suddenly boarded up; reports attribute the closing to an ‘undeclared crisis’ between Hamas and Egypt

Rafah Crossing
Rafah Crossing

Crowds of hundreds of Palestinians seeking to cross into Egypt ambushed the border gate at the Rafah crossing point after Egyptian authorities had surprisingly closed the crossing late Friday. Angry Palestinians who delved deep into the crossing chanted for Egypt to reopen it.

Contradicting reports have been buzzing around regarding the reasons for the closure. Some reports attribute the closure to renovations, while Palestinian news agency Maan, reported that Egyptian national security sources confirmed the closure is due to an “undeclared crisis,” between the governments. According to this version, the Egyptian government is waiting for a reply from Hamas.

Ayub Abu Shaa, head of the Hamas police unit in Rafah, let on that the head of the Egyptian intelligence official at the crossing ruled out the renovations excuse.

Abu Shaa pointed out that the crossing was closed suddenly and plans of wood were placed to completely block both the entrance and exit gates. This, he argues, reveals that the closure of the border isn’t due to renovations, because if it was that simple they would only partially block the crossing.

For their part, Palestinian security personnel at the crossing formed a human shield to prevent Palestinians from storming the crossing.

Hatem Eweida, head of the border crossing authority in Gaza rejected allegations that the closure is related to any dissent between the Egyptian and Gazan government. Eweida confirmed that the closure is mainly due to sudden maintenance operations performed by Egyptian authorities at the crossings. However, he pointed out that that the Egyptian side stopped short of announcing when the borders would reopen, but he confirmed that there are intensive talks and coordination are going in an attempt to solve the ongoing crisis as soon as possible.

Egypt reopened the Rafah crossing, the only way in and out of Gaza that is not controlled by Israel, last month after it had been largely shut since June 2006 when Israel imposed a blockade after militants snatched an Israeli soldier.

The Israeli blockade was tightened a year later when the Islamist movement Hamas seized control of the territory, with Egypt cooperating by tightly restricting movement through Rafah.

Egypt's decision to permanently reopen Rafah came more than three months after former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned, following 18 days of massive street protests against his rule.

The sudden closure came a day after Lebanon barred its residents from approaching the border with Israel on Sunday, when the Palestinians mark 44 years since the seizure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War.

Palestinians in Lebanon and other Arab states neighbouring Israel have said they plan to march on the Jewish state's borders to mark the anniversary.

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