RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Dozens of Palestinian doctors and patients held a sit-in at the Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza Thursday, demanding Egypt reopen the frontier to allow people out for medical treatment.
The crossing, Gaza’s only gateway to the world which is not controlled by Israel, has been closed since October 25 following a deadly suicide bombing in northern Sinai which killed 31 Egyptian soldiers.
“Open the terminal” read one of the signs held up by the demonstrators, some of whom were lying on orange stretchers.
“The closure threatens cancer patients,” read another.
“The crossing must be opened to allow in medication and medical delegations, and to allow Gaza patients to cross for treatment in specialist hospitals in Egypt and in the Arab world,” said Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for Gaza’s health ministry.
Last week, Egypt began demolishing houses along its border with Gaza to set up a buffer zone to prevent militant infiltration and arms smuggling, following a wave of deadly attacks targeting its troops in Sinai.
Cairo suspects Palestinian terrorists of aiding jihadist attacks that have increased since the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, a close ally of the Palestinian Hamas movement, in July 2013.
The restrictions imposed by Cairo on travel through Rafah since the ousting of Morsi have led to a sharp decline in the number of individuals exiting via Egypt, figures published by the Israeli rights group Gisha show.
From an average of more than 20,000 exits a month during the first half of 2013, the figure dropped to just 4,350 exits in June 2014.
The number rose again during Israel’s massive 50-day war against Hamas militants in July and August as Cairo opened the border to allow the wounded to cross, but dropped again in October.
In the weeks leading up to the closure on October 25, a total of 6,079 people exited via the Rafah crossing, the figures show. Of that number, 2,266 pilgrims left for Mecca, accounting for more than a third of those permitted to cross.
The number of Palestinians leaving Gaza via Israel’s Erez crossing meanwhile reached 8,666 during October, according to Gisha, of them 2,004 medical patients and their companions.