(CTN NEWS) – Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip have been assembling at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, anticipating an Israeli ground offensive.
U.S. media reports suggested the crossing might open to allow dual nationals to leave and humanitarian aid to enter, but as of Monday afternoon, it remained closed.
What Is The Rafah Crossing?
The Rafah border crossing is the southernmost exit point from Gaza and shares a border with Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.
It is one of the few entry and exit points for people traveling to and from Gaza.
The other main border crossings are Erez in northern Gaza, primarily used for people traveling to Israel, and Kerem Shalom in southern Gaza, which serves as a commercial goods crossing with Israel.
Currently, all of these crossings are closed.
Why Is It Important Now?
The Erez crossing, which is primarily used for people traveling between Gaza and Israel, was attacked by Hamas militants on October 7th during a major assault on southern Israel, resulting in casualties.
As a result, Israel closed both the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings until further notice, leaving the Rafah border crossing as the sole entry and exit point for people in and out of Gaza. It has also become the only entry point for humanitarian aid.
To facilitate the delivery of international aid, the Egyptian foreign ministry has directed aid flights to El-Arish airport in northern Sinai, and there are numerous lorries carrying fuel and humanitarian goods on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing waiting to enter Gaza.
What Is Going On At The Crossing?
The situation at the Rafah border crossing remains uncertain.
Reports have indicated that it was shut down following Israeli airstrikes on October 9 and 10, which resulted in injuries on both the Egyptian and Palestinian sides of the border.
The Egyptian government requested Israel to halt strikes near the Rafah border crossing so it could serve as a “support lifeline” for people in Gaza.
The reopening of the crossing is contingent on guarantees for the safety of its staff.
Western countries, including the UK and the US, are involved in efforts to secure safe passage through Rafah for foreign passport holders in Gaza and humanitarian aid.
US citizens have been advised to move towards Rafah, as there may be limited notice when the crossing opens.
On Monday, there were reports of crowds gathering at Rafah following the expectation of a temporary reopening during a brief ceasefire, but both Israel and Hamas denied this.
The situation remains fluid, and the border crossing’s status may change in response to developments in the conflict.
Why Are The Crossings Shut?
Israel and Egypt have maintained restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza since 2007, when Hamas took control of the territory.
They argue that the blockade is necessary for security reasons.
In response to Hamas’s attack on October 7, Israel’s defense minister ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off essential supplies, including electricity, food, and fuel.
Egypt has shown a willingness to reopen the Rafah crossing for foreign passport holders and humanitarian aid, but it is concerned about a massive influx of Palestinian refugees and the potential for Islamist militants to enter Egypt, given the longstanding jihadist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.
Egypt’s president has warned that an exodus from Gaza could undermine the Palestinian cause and has called on Palestinians to remain on their land.
These concerns reflect the complex geopolitical dynamics surrounding the Gaza conflict.
How Is Rafah Crossing Normally Used?
The process for Palestinians to leave Gaza via the Rafah crossing is indeed complicated and uncertain.
They must register with local Palestinian authorities several weeks in advance, but even with registration, they can face rejection by either the Palestinian or Egyptian authorities without clear explanations.
The number of people allowed to exit Gaza can vary, and the restrictions are influenced by regional dynamics, security concerns, and political considerations.
As reported by the UN, in August 2023, Egypt allowed over 19,000 people to exit Gaza, but denied entry to hundreds of individuals.
This illustrates the challenges and unpredictability faced by Palestinians in Gaza seeking to travel through the Rafah crossing.
MORE RELATED NEWS: