Palestinians protest as Rafah closed

Published today (updated) 04/06/2011 12:56

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Dozens of Palestinians tried to break through the Rafah crossing on Saturday after Egyptian authorities failed to open the Gaza border terminal, witnesses said.

Egyptian security officers lined up carrying clubs preparing to stop any border breach, onlookers told Ma’an.

Several buses carrying hundreds of Palestinians queued at the Egyptian gate, which remained closed several hours after the scheduled opening time.

Egyptian authorities made no official announcement that the crossing would be closed.

Egypt reopened the Rafah crossing on May 28, allowing the free movement of Palestinians from Gaza for the first time in four years. The terminal is the only crossing which Israel does not control.

However, floods of travelers overwhelmed the crossing, and the situation escalated into a crisis as officials traded accusations over the responsibility for huge queues at the terminal.

Hamas officials were also angered by Egypt’s publication of a blacklist, banning 5,000 Palestinians from traveling.

On Tuesday, Egyptian authorities met with Hamas officials and agreed to set a cap of 400 travelers per day to use the crossing.

Representative of Palestine in Cairo Mohammad Arafat said Wednesday that Egypt was under intense pressure from Israel and the US to close the border crossing. He said Egypt was reviewing the names of those blacklisted from travel.

Some Palestinians on the blacklist said they would appeal to Egyptian courts. They said the decision was based on inaccurate information received by the former Egyptian state security.

The decision to permanently reopen the Rafah crossing came more than three months after former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned under pressure following 18 days of massive street protests against his rule.

Israeli ministers slammed the reopening of the border, warning that terrorist groups would be able to move weapons and people freely through the crossing.

The border has remained largely shut since June 2006 when Israel imposed a tight blockade on Gaza after militants snatched Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.

The blockade was tightened a year later when Hamas seized control of the territory, ousting forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

The United Nations has called the blockade illegal and repeatedly demanded it be lifted.

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