Understanding the Significance of the Rafah Crossing
The Rafah border crossing, connecting Gaza with Egypt, stands as a unique entry point as it remains disconnected from Israel, unlike other crossing points in Gaza. While initially envisioned as a pivotal gateway, its accessibility to Palestinians has been sporadic, particularly since the rise of Hamas in 2007. Notably, during the short-lived rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt until 2013, the crossing witnessed temporary openings.
Cairo’s administration of the crossing has been fraught with political sensitivity, primarily due to the joint blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt on Gaza during the Hamas era. This complexity further intensified with an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai, prompting Egypt to impose stringent controls on travel to towns and cities near the Rafah crossing, especially the hub of Arish.
Rafah, once synonymous with smuggling activities, is geographically divided between Egyptian Rafah and Palestinian Rafah, with the border physically traversing it. Egypt took deliberate measures in 2015, causing flooding in the border area, with the intent of shutting down smuggling tunnels that used to connect Gaza and Egypt, serving as conduits for both people and goods.
Historical Access Restrictions at Rafah
Despite international calls for the opening of the Rafah crossing since the commencement of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza, it remained predominantly closed, with only limited access granted to aid convoys. However, a recent development has seen international involvement and the mediation efforts of Qatar, which maintains close ties with Hamas’s leadership, leading to the reopening of the crossing. Notably, this reopening applies to hundreds of dual nationals residing in Gaza who hold foreign passports, as well as individuals who have sustained injuries and require medical treatment beyond Gaza’s overwhelmed healthcare system.
Under the arrangements put in place by Cairo, the embassies of the individuals authorized for crossing have been duly informed, and it is anticipated that further evacuations will be permitted in the ensuing days.
Aid for the Injured
Casualties were transported to the Rafah crossing in Palestinian ambulances, with two individuals per ambulance. Once across, they were received at a triage center manned by Egyptian paramedics who assessed the injured and then transferred them to a waiting fleet of Egyptian ambulances. Most of the wounded have been directed to hospitals in Arish, alongside an Egyptian field hospital in Sheikh Zuwayed in the Sinai region, and Turkish field hospitals established in recent weeks.
Departures and International Support
A limited number of foreign nationals have been granted permission to exit Gaza. Among them are two Médecins Sans Frontières doctors from the Philippines, as confirmed by a Philippine foreign ministry official. Other foreign governments, including the UK, Ukraine, and the US, have expressed their hope that their citizens will soon be permitted to leave. A significant contingent of foreign passport holders remains stationed on the Gaza side of the crossing, awaiting their turn for evacuation.