GAZA CITY, occupied Gaza Strip (IRIN) - Rafah crossing, Gaza’s only official border crossing into Egypt, opened to a limited number of Gazans on 18-21 April. Some 1,600 medical patients, students and business people crossed into Egypt.
Some 400 were turned back by the Egyptian authorities, according to the Gaza interior ministry, and thousands remain stranded on both sides of the border.
Of the 1,600, around 250 were medical patients traveling to Egypt for emergency care — out of the 1,700 patients registered with the Gaza health ministry, according to director-general of the Gaza health ministry, Yousef al-Mdalal.
About 2,000 Gazans gathered at the departure point for the crossing (a stadium in Khan Younis), many sleeping outside. “I waited 36 hours outside in the stadium before I could board my bus to the terminal,” said businessmen Shodi Abu-Kashif, holding up a UK visa. Shodi has been waiting six months to exit via Rafah.
An estimated 5,000 Palestinians are registered with the interior ministry in Gaza to travel via the Rafah crossing — medical patients, students, and those holding foreign visas, foreign passports and foreign residency permits, according to Adel Zoureb, a spokesman for Rafah crossing.
“Rafah crossing has been mostly closed since Hamas took power in June 2007,” Hamada al-Bayari, field officer of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Gaza, told IRIN.
Erez crossing on the Gaza-Israel border, the only other passenger crossing, is mostly closed to Palestinians, according to OCHA.
Medical evacuations from Gaza halted on 22 March 2009, after the Gaza health ministry took control of the Referral Abroad Department, prompting the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah to cut off funding medical care abroad, reported OCHA.
The dispute has yet to be resolved.
Eighty percent of patients who crossed into Egypt via Rafah on 18 April (no patients crossed on 19 April) carried referral documents issued by the Hamas-appointed medical committee. The remainder had documents issued by the PA in Ramallah issued before 22 March, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO) in Gaza.
Since 18 April, however, Egyptian hospitals have been accepting only documents issued by the PA in Ramallah, denying treatment to other patients holding documents from the Hamas-led government in Gaza, said Abdelnaser Soboh of WHO Gaza’s Information Management Unit.
Each month about 800-1,000 Gazans need to travel for medical care unavailable in Gaza, WHO’s health officer in Gaza, Mahmoud Daher, told IRIN.
Medical evacuations from Gaza are sporadic. “There is no clear agreement or policy regarding the Rafah crossing. The crossing opens on an ad-hoc basis for a limited number of medical/humanitarian cases and there is no real understanding as to the process of allowing Palestinians to enter and exit Gaza,” said OCHA’s al-Bayari.
Hamas wants change to border agreement
The newly constructed crossing point — built when the Agreement on Movement and Access was personally brokered by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in November 2005 — still stands ready for passengers.
“We are following the Agreement on Movement and Access in our operation of the Rafah crossing,” said Ghazi Hamad, head of borders and crossings for the Gaza government. “But we do call for certain amendments to the Agreement.”
Hamas wants the removal of Israeli surveillance cameras, no lists of banned passengers, freedom of access to the crossing point for all Palestinians and foreigners, and freedom of movement for all commercial and humanitarian goods, said Hamad.
“We could import and export goods today from Rafah, but Egypt and Israel will not permit it,” he added.
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