Egypt seals off Gaza border after brief opening

Nearly 2,500 people left Gaza during a three-day humanitarian opening of the border with Egypt, according to Hamas authorities – but Egypt has now sealed the border off again.

The Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said 2,439 people left the territory over the three days, while 1,122 entered and 334 were turned back by Egyptian authorities.

The border was closed again on Tuesday, a ministry statement said, after "Egyptian authorities informed us of the shutting down of the Rafah crossing."  

Egypt originally opened the border for humanitarian cases for two days from Saturday but that was extended for an extra day on Monday.

Before Saturday, the crossing had been closed for 70 days, the ministry said.

The United Nations has registered 30,000 Palestinians as "humanitarian cases" seeking to leave Gaza.

At the crossing, long lines of Gazans queued, many carrying heavy suitcases.

Sarah Abu Karesh, a woman waiting at the crossing on Saturday, told AFP she had been trying to leave the territory for months.

"I only came here for a week's holiday and I've been stuck here for 18 months," she said.  

The crossing is Gaza's only access point not controlled by Israel, which has maintained a blockade on the territory for nearly a decade, in an effort to prevent sophisticated weaponry making its way into the hands of terrorists sworn to Israel's destruction.

But while humanitarian aid and other items are frequently allowed in via Israel, Egyptian authorities have imposed a far stricter blockage, effectively sealing off the border. Cairo has long accused Gaza's Hamas rulers of colluding with and even actively participating in a jihadist insurgency against Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula.

The Hamas interior ministry said 2015 was "the worst year for Rafah in recent years" with the border crossing open for just 21 days in total.  

The border was largely open during the rule of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood movement has close ties with the fellow Islamists of Hamas.  

But since Morsi's overthrow in 2013, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has closed the crossing, with only occasional humanitarian openings.

In 2012, nearly 35,000 travelers used the Rafah crossing each month, according to the UN. In 2015, the monthly average fell to less than 2,400.  

Historically many young Gazan studied in Egypt, while many Palestinians visited their families on the other side of the border.

Egyptian forces have also faced accusations of flooding hundreds of cross-border tunnels that were previously used to smuggle goods weapons and even jihadist fighters into and out of Gaza.

At least 11 Gazans – almost all Hamas terrorists – have died in tunnel collapses in recent weeks, in incidents attributed to both heavy rainfall and the pumping of sea water into tunnels by Egypt.

AFP contributed to this report.


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