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Egypt closes Rafah crossing with Gaza after 2-day opening

Aug. 29, 2017 12:59 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 29, 2017 9:10 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) – Egyptian authorities have closed the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip after it was opened Sunday and Monday to allow humanitarian cases leave the besieged coastal enclave. Hajj pilgrims also left Gaza to travel to Saudi Arabia, according to earlier reports, and Palestinians that were stranded on the Egyptian side of the border were allowed to return home.

Gaza's crossings department said in a statement Tuesday that 882 humanitarian cases including students, patients, and holders of Egyptian passports left via Rafah crossing on Monday, while 166 passengers who were stranded in Egypt arrived in the Gaza Strip.

The statement made no mention of how many of the Palestinians were hajj pilgrims, but the crossings department announced Sunday that a group of hajj pilgrims -- all said to be first-degree family members of Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli forces -- would be allowed to leave the small Palestinian territory and travel to Saudi Arabia via Egypt during the exceptional border opening.

Egyptian authorities also denied 66 passengers entry into Egypt without giving justification, according the crossing department's statement.

Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah crossing for four days earlier this month, when at least 2,371 hajj pilgrims in addition to 320 Palestinians with urgent humanitarian needs were allowed to leave, according to the United Nations. Before that, the crossing was last opened for the exit of people in May.

Many Gazans are prevented from leaving or entering the besieged coastal enclave, sometimes for months at a time, as Egyptian authorities only periodically open the Rafah crossing, stranding Palestinians on both sides of the crossing during closures.

According to the United Nations, the crossing was opened only 44 days in 2016, and 21 days in 2015.

Rumors have circulated in recent months that the Rafah crossing could open on a more regular basis. Reports emerged in Israeli media last week that Egyptian authorities could reopen the Rafah crossing on a regular basis in September, following the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, after renovations aimed at “allow(ing) the passage of goods and protect(ing) the crossing against terror attacks” were complete.

Without access to the Rafah crossing, many Palestinians in Gaza must 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.
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