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Eighty per cent decline in travellers through Rafah crossing

February 13, 2014 at 1:54 am

An official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Gaza has noted the decline in the number of people crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, creating what he called a “major crisis”. Undersecretary Ghazi Hamd told Al Jazeera that the number of travellers has gone down by 80 per cent, from an average of 1,700 per day, since the Egyptians closed the crossing to all but emergency cases.

Hamd stressed that the Rafah crossing is the only outlet to the fresh air of freedom for the people of the Gaza Strip; its closure turns the Strip into a “big prison”. He pointed out that thousands of Palestinians are stranded in the Gaza Strip as well as airports and capital cities around the world because they cannot get back to their country due to the measures imposed by the interim Egyptian authorities.

Asked if there is communication between the government in Gaza and the Egyptians, Hamd confirmed that he is in daily contact in an effort to have the number of foot travellers increased. “We need to see more patients seeking treatment abroad being allowed to cross into Egypt as well as students, businessmen and families.”

The official also referred to the employment difficulties created by the ban on construction materials, which had been entering through Rafah, and the challenges facing convoys trying to visit in solidarity with the people of the Gaza Strip. The Egyptians justify the closure of the crossing on security grounds due to the internal situation in the country. “The people of Gaza are suffering as a result of what is happening inside Egypt,” said Hamd.

He reiterated the Hamas-led government’s readiness to work with the Egyptian authorities to close the tunnels under the border as long as the Rafah crossing can be used in their place. “The tunnels are essential for food and fuel,” he insisted, “but at the moment they are costing Gaza a high political and security price.” Because of the Rafah closure and the destruction of the tunnels, he added, Gaza is now dependent solely on the crossings controlled by the Israeli occupation for basic essentials.