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Egypt to allow 240 Palestinians to leave Gaza through Rafah crossing for hajj pilgrimage

Aug. 20, 2017 8:07 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 21, 2017 11:54 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian Minister of Waqf (Islamic endowment) and Religious Affairs Sheikh Yousif Ideis announced on Sunday from the city of Medina, Saudi Arabia, that the Egyptian government has agreed to allow 240 Palestinian worshipers to leave the besieged Gaza Strip next week in order to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform the Muslim hajj pilgrimage.

Official Palestinian Authority (PA)-owned Wafa news agency quoted Ideis as saying the group of pilgrims will leave the coastal enclave through the Rafah crossing with Egypt next Sunday, August 27.

Egyptian authorities closed the Rafah crossing on Friday, August 18, after a four-day opening in which an estimated 2,500 Palestinians from Gaza travelled through the crossing on their way to Saudi Arabia.

The crossing was last opened in early May, more than three months ago. The long-term closures at Rafah contradict Egyptian claims made back in March, when sources claimed that Egyptian President Abd al Fattah al-Sisi himself had ordered for Rafah to be opened twice a month in order to lessen the siege on Gaza.

Without access to the Rafah crossing, many Palestinians in Gaza depend on the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing to exit the besieged territory. However, the number of Israeli exit permits granted to Palestinians from Gaza has dropped “dramatically,” Israeli NGO Gisha noted earlier this month, with the number of permits given monthly by Israel dropping to just half the amount issued in 2016.

According to the United Nations, during 2016, the Rafah crossing was partially opened for only 44 days. In 2015, the crossing had only been open for 21 days.

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