Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Egypt-Gaza crossing opens for 3 days, as Israel shuts Karem Abu Salem

By The Palestine Monitor - August 13, 2020
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Gaza] [border crossings] [Rafah border crossing]

The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt was temporarily opened yesterday for the first time since the pandemic began, allowing Palestinians to leave the besieged Strip. 

Gaza’s most southern border passage is due to remain open for just three days, the Palestinian Interior Ministry announced on Monday, saying in a brief statement that “Egyptian authorities opened the crossing exceptionally after a five-month closure.” 

In a bid to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Gaza Strip, the border was completely closed in mid-March. In April the crossing was temporarily opened, but only to allow stranded Gazans abroad to return home to the besieged enclave.

Hundreds of Gazans were reported to have assembled before dawn in a waiting area on Tuesday, preparing to exit. Anyone returning from Egypt will be placed in a dedicated quarantine facility for 21 days, according to the head of infection control at Gaza's health ministry, Rami Al-Abadala.

Egypt effectively closed the border crossing in mid-March to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Hamas, the governing party of Gaza, maintained a strict lockdown of the Strip for fear the virus would overwhelm an already crumbling healthcare system. 

The Rafah crossing provides Gaza’s only access to the outside world not controlled by Israel.

With around 2 million Palestinians on some 362 square kilometres, Gaza ranks as the third most densely populated polity in the world, adding to the fear the virus would run rife through the population if left unchecked.

Compared to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Gaza has shown huge success in preventing a massive outbreak of COVID-19, with just 81 cases reported in the territory since March. Egypt however, has recorded over 95,000 cases.

As of Tuesday, the Palestinian Ministry of Health had reported nearly 20,000 cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with at least 473 cases reported in the last 24 hours. The death toll also rose to 114, with three new COVID-19 related deaths also in the past 24 hours.

The move to open Rafah came as Israel announced the closure of their only border crossing for goods deliveries to the Gaza Strip after incendiary balloons were sent from Palestine into Israel on Tuesday.

Only essential humanitarian goods and fuel will be allowed to enter via the Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing, according to Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). It is unclear how long the closure will last.

According to local news sources, the balloons caused 60 fires and no casualties were reported.

In retaliation to the airborne incendiary devices, the Israeli military carried out airstrikes on Hamas targets overnight Tuesday, along with the border closure.

Hamas denounced the closure as an “aggressive” move that showed Israel’s “insistence on laying siege” to Gaza, warning it could cause further worsening of the humanitarian situation in the territory.

The Gaza Strip has been under a full Israeli blockade of their land, air and sea borders since 2007 when Hamas took power. Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008.

The crippling blockade has caused a sharp decline in the standard of living as well as unprecedented levels of unemployment and unrelenting poverty in the Gaza Strip. The UN predicted the strip would be “unlivable” by 2020.

The UN Secretary-General has found that the blockade and related restrictions contravene international humanitarian law as they target and impose hardship on the civilian population, effectively penalising them for acts they have not committed.


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