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Why the border between Gaza and Egypt is sealed at the Rafah crossing

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TThe only crossing between Gaza and Egypt remains closed to refugees and humanitarian aid.

On Monday, hundreds of people began gathering at the Rafah border crossing, the only crossing between the Gaza Strip and neighboring Egypt, hoping to flee Gaza before Israel launches an expected ground offensive. But they remain stuck at the border a day later, after Israeli airstrikes forced the crossing to be completely closed.

It remains unclear which regional actor is behind the closed borders, according to reports from the Associated Press.

Several Israeli airstrikes have reportedly hit the region in recent days, killing at least 49 people on Tuesday in passing and in the nearby town of Khan Younis, according to Gaza’s interior ministry. So far, the war between Israel and Hamas has left at least 2,800 dead and 10,000 injured in Gaza. In Israel, 1,400 people died and 3,900 were injured.

Learn more: For Gazans, there is no refuge

The blocked border artery is delaying the delivery of medical supplies and humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza territory, after some 160 trucks left Al-Arish in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula carrying hundreds of tons of Egyptian and international aid. Humanitarian convoys remain stationed on the Egyptian side as of publication.

US President Joe Biden is expected to travel to Israel on Wednesday to meet with Israeli leaders, after which he will travel to Jordan to meet with Arab leaders, amid concerns that the fighting could destabilize broader regional relations.

Where is the Rafah border crossing and why is it closed?

Located on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, the Rafah crossing is one of two land routes out of the Gaza Strip and the only exit to non-Israeli territory. Alongside Israel, Egypt imposed a 16-year land, air and sea blockade, which restricted the passage of imports into the region and prevented most Palestinians from crossing the border. In the past, Egyptian authorities have attributed tight restrictions on travel across this border to security concerns in North Sinai.

But UN reports suggest that Egypt’s reluctance to open the Rafah crossing in recent days is explained by the hope of avoiding a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, which could lead to their permanent resettlement in Egypt.

Egypt has maintained for decades a The position that allowing a mass exodus of Gazans would “revive the idea that Sinai is the alternative country for Palestinians,” Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, a political scientist at Cairo University, told the New York Times.

As the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 after waging several wars, Egypt has long played a mediating role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as infighting between Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah.

On Monday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that “so far, the Israeli government has not taken a position on the opening of the Rafah crossing on the Gaza side to allow the entry of aid and exit of citizens of third countries”.

A Palestinian woman holds her German passport while waiting at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Abed Rahim Khatib—Getty Images

What is the impact of the border closure on humanitarian aid efforts?

On October 14, a plane carrying medical supplies from the World Health Organization’s logistics center in Dubai landed at Al-Arish airport to meet critical health needs in Gaza, according to a statement from the WHO. They include trauma medicine and health equipment to treat 1,200 injured patients and 1,500 patients suffering from heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and respiratory problems, as well as basic necessities for nearly 300,000 people, including pregnant women.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on October 9 to request that the delivery of WHO supplies to Gaza be facilitated through the Rafah crossing. Despite these negotiations, supplies remain on the Egyptian side of the border.

Learn more: How disinformation about the war between Israel and Hamas is spreading online

“Every hour that these supplies remain on the Egyptian side of the border, more girls and boys, women and men, especially those who are vulnerable or disabled, will die while the supplies that can save them are less of 20 km,” the WHO said in a statement. press release, calling for the immediate opening of the passage.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said an agreement had been reached with Israel “to develop a plan” for delivering aid to Gaza after nine hours of negotiations, although he did not provide details on what to do. what the aid plan would look like. “Today, and at our request, the United States and Israel agreed to develop a plan that will allow humanitarian assistance from donor countries and multilateral organizations to reach civilians in Gaza,” Blinken said.

What is happening to American citizens stuck in Gaza?

Among those waiting at the border are about 600 Americans, according to U.S. State Department estimates, as well as Palestinians with other dual nationalities. The United States has promised them safe passage to Egypt, but diplomatic efforts to secure that access continue to stall.

Over the weekend, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan acknowledged that no US citizens had been able to cross the border, adding that in the meantime the US was working with the UN, Israel, Egypt and Jordan in an attempt to guarantee “safe places”. so that civilians can go there without being subjected to bombing.

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