Egypt opened its border with Gaza for the first time in three months on Wednesday, giving Palestinians a two-day respite from a closure stemming from friction between Cairo and the enclave’s Islamist rulers.
Egypt’s shuttering of Rafah and destruction of cross-border smuggling tunnels -- along with tight restrictions imposed by Israel along its own frontier with Gaza -- have deepened economic misery for many of the 1.9 million Palestinians in the enclave.
Egypt’s military-backed government has kept its border with the Gaza Strip largely closed since Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted as president three years ago.
Egyptian officials view Gaza’s governing Hamas group as a threat, accusing it of supporting an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai peninsula bordering the Palestinian territory. Hamas denies the allegation.
Some 30,000 Gazans are on a waiting list to cross at Rafah. Only a few thousand, including patients, students and holders of residency permits in third countries, were likely to do so on Wednesday and Thursday before it closes again.
“I have been waiting for several months to get a chance to have advanced cancer checks in Cairo,” said Umm Ahmed, a 55-year-old Gaza resident, urging Egypt’s president to reopen the Rafah crossing for good because “we are brothers, not enemies”.
For Gazans who live or work outside the enclave, a visit home is hard to schedule, and it carries the risk of being stuck in the territory and losing residency rights in host countries.
“You never know when the crossing will be open, so if you want to come and visit your family at home, you should be prepared to risk your job,” said a Gaza merchant who does business in the Gulf.
The Palestinian Embassy in Cairo said Rafah was opened at the request of West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who met Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi this week.
Hamas ousted Abbas’s Fatah movement from power in Gaza in a brief civil war in 2007.