9 July 2013
This route to safety is closed off, at least for now, amid the turmoil in Egypt.
Half of the almost 500,000 registered Palestine refugees have now been displaced from their homes as shelling and fighting continue to encroach on their areas in Syria, and 44,000 refugee homes have been damaged, UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, said this week.
Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed, including six in Yarmouk camp near Damascus over the last week, one of whom was the son of an UNRWA staff member.
From Damascus to Gaza, via Egypt
The number of Palestinians who have made it to Gaza is unknown, but Al-Helou cites estimates of around 800 persons.
“We Palestinian refugees have become refugees another time,” Muhammad al-Sheikh, a Palestinian who lived in Syria for 41 years, told Al-Helou. “We were forced to leave our homes due to the destruction and killing in Syria.”
“We know that Gaza often comes under Israeli attacks, so we know that for us the danger is not yet over. But at least we are in our homeland,” al-Sheikh added.
Though all facing the same dangers and dire situation that caused them to flee, Palestinians have strongly divergent views on the situation in Syria, with some opposing and others supporting the uprising against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Al-Helou reported.
Route to Gaza closed off by Egypt upheaval
Al-Sheikh said that refugees typically fly from Damascus to Cairo and then travel by taxi to the Rafah crossing border with Gaza.
But this route appears to be closed off at least for the time being amid the political turmoil in Egypt following the army’s removal of President Muhammad Morsi last week.
The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza has been closed since the military takeover.
Egypt deports Palestinians
Egyptian authorities have begun deporting and denying entry to even long-time Palestinian residents of Gaza.
Contributor to The Electronic Intifada Yousef Aljamal, deported to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, is among dozens of Palestinians refused entry to Egypt as they tried to return home.
Egypt has also instructed international airlines not to allow Palestinian Authority passport holders to board flights for Cairo leaving many Palestinians stranded abroad.
Dozens more Palestinians are reported stranded at Cairo airport in deplorable conditions as efforts are made to persuade Egypt to reopen Rafah.
New measures restricting entry of Syrians
Today, Egypt expanded the tough restrictions to include Syrians, announcing that Syrian citizens would require advance visas in order to enter Egypt.
The measures came to light last night when Egyptian authorities deported 276 Syrians who had arrived at Cairo airport on scheduled flights from Beirut and Damascus, according to Egypt’s Ahram Online.
Rumors targeting Palestinians and Syrians
These measures come amid rumors and unsubstantiated accusations by Egyptian military brass, in the media and on social media, that Hamas specifically and Palestinians generally – and now Syrians – are interfering in Egypt or assisting the Muslim Brotherhood movement of the deposed president.
In recent days, Egyptian officials have again claimed, without evidence, that Palestinians are responsible for attacks on Egyptian security forces in Sinai attributed to militant groups in the area.
Palestinians and Syrians in Egypt are particularly vulnerable populations who need safety and protection. Instead, in this atmosphere, many will now be feeling a heightened sense of danger.
Report: Rafah crossing may partially re-open on Wednesday
Breaking reports say that Egypt has agreed to partially re-open on the Rafah crossing on Wednesday. The main land exit from Gaza has been closed by Egyptian authorities for five days.
Gaza residents will be allowed to return, but only those with medical permits will be allowed by Egypt to leave Gaza, Palestinian authorities in Gaza have said.
Ban on entry remains for Palestinians
Notwithstanding the news about Rafah, Egyptian authorities issued a decree on 9 July announcing that no holders of Palestinian Authority passports or Jordanian passports that lack a national number will be allowed to enter Egypt without prior clearance from the security services. This means that Egypt remains effectively closed to Palestinians who fit those categories.