Egypt to keep Rafah crossing with Gaza open until end of Ramadan

Move will mark longest period border stays open in years; Sissi says move meant to ease burdens on Palestinians

Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 16, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 16, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Egypt said Thursday it would leave the Rafah crossing with Gaza open for the remainder of the holy month of Ramadan, making a rare concession for the ailing Strip.

The move comes after years that have seen Egypt open its sole border crossing with the Strip only sporadically and for short intervals.

“I issued my directions to the concerned apparatuses to take the necessary measures to maintain the opening of the Rafah border crossing throughout the holy month of Ramadan in order to ensure the easing of the burdens on the brothers in the Gaza Strip,” Sissi said on his official Twitter account according to Egyptian news site al-Ahram.

Ramadan, which began Wednesday night, will end on June 14, making it the longest the crossing has been open consecutively for years, as Egypt has fought an insurgency in north Sinai bordering the Palestinian enclave.

Egypt played a large role in convincing Hamas to call of protests this week after deadly clashes with Israeli troops at the border fence Monday. 60 people were killed Monday and another two on Tuesday during the demonstrations, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. A Hamas official said 50 of them were members of the terror group which controls the Strip.

Sissi on Wednesday said his government was communicating with both sides “so that this bloodshed would stop.”

Palestinians burn tires as they clash with Israeli forces near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, east of Gaza City, on May 14, 2018. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

Since March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken part in weekly “March of Return” protests, which Israel says are orchestrated by the Hamas terror group and used as cover for attempted terror attacks and breaches of the border fence.

Friday — the day protests usually peak — will be a key test of whether the current round of violence will continue.

The violent demonstrations were meant to end on May 15, but Hamas leaders have said they want them to continue.

Earlier Thursday, the Israeli Defense Ministry said the flow of gasoline and diesel fuel into the coastal enclave was being partially restored, less than a week after Palestinian rioters burned the fuel terminal at the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

On Tuesday, Israel reopened the trucking lanes of the Kerem Shalom Crossing and began allowing through medical supplies and commercial goods, though in two cases Palestinian officials refused to accept the trucks.

The Israeli army prepares a shipment of medical supplies for the Gaza Strip on May 15, 2018. The Hamas terrorist group, which rules the coastal enclave, later refused to accept the equipment and sent it back.

Palestinian Authority officials, working on the Gaza side of the crossing, sent back 14 trucks worth of food and diapers on Tuesday, for unclear reasons. The next day, Hamas officials inside Gaza refused to accept two shipments of medical supplies, despite shortages in the Strip’s hospitals, because they were provided by the Israeli military.

While the inability to import medical equipment and other essential goods to the Gaza Strip due to the temporary closure of the crossing was a source of concern, international officials this week warned of the dire consequences of the lack of fuel.

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