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Hundreds of Gazans travel through Rafah crossing on 2nd day of opening

Dec. 19, 2016 5:29 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 19, 2016 9:44 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- Some 726 Palestinians traveled through the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the besieged Gaza Strip on Sunday as part of a three-day opening.

Of these, 560 Palestinians crossed into Egypt from Gaza, and 166 Palestinians returned to the Gaza Strip from Sunday until Monday morning, an Egyptian security official at the crossing told Ma’an.

The Egyptian official said that a number of Palestinian travelers to Egypt spent the night inside the crossing’s waiting hall due to the security curfew imposed on the Egyptian towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, and that they were able to travel to Cairo Monday morning after the end of the curfew.

Egyptian authorities also allowed 46 trucks financed by Qatar and loaded with construction materials to enter Gaza on Sunday, as part of a Qatari project to help rebuild the besieged coastal enclave, the source added.

Meanwhile, the head of the car import union in Gaza Ismail Nakhala denounced Egyptian authorities’ decision to allow Palestinian vehicles to enter into Gaza from Egypt, telling Ma’an that the procedures were unclear and that the union would meet with Gaza’s Ministry of Transportation to clarify the issue.

Nakhala said that cars imported through Rafah were only subjected to a 25 percent customs fee, whereas cars imported through the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel were subjected to a 75 percent customs fee, severely affecting Palestinian car salespeople.

Egyptian authorities had announced on Thursday that they would be opening the Rafah crossing for three days starting on Saturday, with security sources telling Ma’an that the decision to open the border came upon order from Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi “to lessen the siege on the Gaza Strip by opening the crossing twice a month.”

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

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, many Gazans are commonly barred from leaving or entering the besieged coastal enclave, some 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.

The near decade-long Israeli blockade has plunged the Gaza Strip’s more than 1.8 million Palestinians into extreme poverty and one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.

Gaza's infrastructure has yet to recover from the devastation of three Israeli offensives over the past six years. The slow and sometimes stagnant reconstruction of the besieged coastal enclave has only been worsened by the blockade, leading the UN in September to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.

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