New Rafah travel mechanisms from next week

Published 24/06/2011

Palestinians wait to pass into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on March 1, 2010. [MaanImages/Hatem Omar]

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — New travel mechanisms will be implemented at the Rafah crossing at the start of the week, Gaza Cabinet head Mohammad A’zqul said Thursday.

The Ministerial Council secretary did not elaborate on the new procedures approved by the government in Gaza, but said that they would give priority to patents seeking treatment abroad, students enrolled at universities abroad, residents with passports of residency status in foreign countries and emergency travelers.

The official announced the establishment of an internal monitoring committee to regulate the operations of the terminal on Gaza’s southern border, the sole source of passage abroad for Gaza’s 1.6 million inhabitants.

While the terminal was opened by Egyptian authorities on May 28 for visa-free passage of travelers, bar males between 18 and 40 and up 5,000 individuals specified on a blacklist, Egypt has set a cap of around 300 to 400 travelers per day and a registration process to the Gaza Ministry of Interior has been overwhelmed by applicants and had been closed temporarily.

A’zqul visited the terminal on Thursday, and noted “the state of overcrowding, waiting and suffering of Palestinians at the crossing, amidst limited numbers of travelers who can pass through while the number of travelers is increasing.”

He listened to complaints and demand of the travelers, A’zqul said, and promised to work with the crossing administration to resolve these issues.

A’zqul said the Egyptian authorities have a responsibility to Palestinians in Gaza, and he hoped they would continue to work to end the closure on the coastal strip by helping the crossing to function.

Shortly after the terminal was opened, Egyptian and Gaza authorities clashed over coordination and travel mechanisms, causing a temporary re-closure, before the sides agreed to limit travelers and other mechanisms.

The border had 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 opening of the terminal, more than three months after former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned following 18 days of massive street protests against his rule, was warmly welcomed in the coastal strip and the Egyptian street, though Israel strongly criticized the move.

Rafah is Gaza’s only border crossing not controlled by Israel.

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