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Egypt opens Rafah crossing for 4 days to facilitate return of Palestinian Hajj pilgrims

Sept. 16, 2016 6:14 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 18, 2016 5:07 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Egyptian authorities announced Friday that the Rafah crossing would be open for four days to allow for the return of Palestinians on the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

The Gaza Strip crossings committee said in a statement that they were informed by Egyptian authorities that the crossing would be open on Saturday, as well as on Sept. 18, 21, 22, and 23 to facilitate the return of pilgrims.

The committee added that humanitarian cases inside the Gaza Strip or stranded on the Egyptian side would not be permitted to enter or leave the besieged enclave during these days.

Eid al-Adha, or the "Festival of Sacrifice," is a Muslim holiday marking the end of the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The four-day holiday seeks to honor Prophet Abraham's sacrifice of his son Ishmael as a duty to God.

Palestinians in Gaza must receive permission from the Egyptian government to go on the Hajj pilgrimage, as the airport in Cairo is the only avenue Gazans have to travel abroad.

Egypt has upheld an Israeli military blockade on the Gaza Strip for the majority of the past three years, since the ouster of President Muhammad Morsi in 2013 and the rise to power of Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt.

While the Egyptian border has remained the main lifeline for Gazans to the outside world, Egyptian authorities have slowly sealed off movement through the border since Morsi was toppled by the Egyptian army.

Due to the constraints on Palestinian movement through the crossing, Palestinians are commonly barred from leaving or entering the Gaza Strip, sometimes for months at a time, as the crossing is only periodically opened by Egyptian authorities, stranding Palestinians on both sides of the crossing during closures.

In 2015, the Rafah crossing was closed for 344 days. The crossing has been reopened on a more regular basis in 2016.

Egyptian authorities opened the crossing for three days in August in order to facilitate the passage of Hajj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, as some 2,008 Gazans received visas to use the Cairo airport for international travel.

The nearly nine-year Israeli blockade has plunged the Gaza Strip’s more than 1.8 million Palestinians into poverty. The destruction from three Israeli offensives over the past six years and slow reconstruction due to the blockade led the UN in September to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.
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