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Hundreds of Palestinians return to Gaza through Egypt's Rafah crossing

May 7, 2017 10:20 A.M. (Updated: May 8, 2017 12:18 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah border crossing in one direction for the second consecutive day on Sunday, to allow Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side to return to the besieged Gaza Strip.

Head of the media office at the Rafah crossing Wael Abu Omar said that 832 Palestinians were able to arrive to the Palestinian hall of the terminal during the first day of opening, which lasted from 10 a.m. Saturday until 3 a.m. Sunday.

Abu Omar said that among the passengers was the body of a dead Palestinian that was allowed to return to Gaza to be buried.

He added that Egyptian authorities also permitted the entry of trucks loaded with cement, paint, and cheese.

Egyptian authorities announced their decision to open the crossing on Thursday, saying that the order came upon request by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi.

Initially planned to be a three-day opening for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, Egyptian authorities announced later Sunday morning that the opening was extended and Palestinians would be allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt on Tuesday as well.

Egypt has upheld an Israeli military blockade on the Gaza Strip since the ousting of former President Muhammad Morsi in 2013 and the rise to power of 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, 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.

According to the United Nations, the crossing has been opened exceptionally for only 12 days in 2017, last on March 9. During 2016, the crossing was partially opened for 44 days. In 2015, the crossing had only been open for 21 days.

The decade-long Israeli blockade has plunged the Gaza Strip’s nearly two million Palestinians into extreme poverty and some 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 to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.
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