Rafah Crossing opened for travel to and from Gaza for three days only. Salah A-Din Gate closed to movement of goods

Rafah Crossing, 2016. Photo by Gisha.

January 29, 2019. The Ministry of Interior in Gaza issued a statement yesterday saying that Rafah Crossing would be opened for movement of people to and from Gaza this morning (Tuesday), for the first time since January 8. The crossing is scheduled to remain open for only three days. The limited opening of the crossing signals the end of routine operations at Rafah, which had been opened regularly since mid-May 2018.

Exit of Gaza residents through Rafah Crossing is subject to Egypt’s narrow criteria: People who hold Egyptian or foreign passports, people with referrals for medical treatment, students, or residents who have entry visas to third countries.

Between mid-May and the end of December 2018, a monthly average of 4,259 entries into Gaza and 6,738 exits from the Strip were recorded at Rafah Crossing. In comparison, in 2017, the monthly average of entries and exits combined was only 2,930, about a third of the movement recorded this year at Rafah. In the first six months of 2013, which was the last time the crossing was opened regularly, an average of 40,000 entries and exits were recorded at the crossing each month.

Gaza suppliers report that in the last few days, no goods have entered the Strip through the crossing adjacent to Rafah, Salah A-Din Gate, except for cooking gas and cement. Other goods destined for Gaza, including food and raw materials, have been held up on the Egyptian side of Salah A-Din since Saturday. The Egyptian authorities claim the delay is caused by a malfunction in the merchandise scanners at the gate. Media reports in Arabic speculated that the Egyptian authorities are targeting Hamas’s tax revenue, which is collected at the gate, with the aim of mounting pressure on the organization.

Gaza suppliers who purchased the goods now held on the Egyptian side of the gate are concerned that further delays could cause irreparable damage to perishable goods. Egyptian suppliers who export goods to the Strip estimate that Egyptian staff at Salah A-Din will allow the goods already purchased and stored on the Egyptian side to enter Gaza, but block any newly purchased goods.

A variety of goods enter Gaza via Sala a-Din Gate, including food, construction materials for the private sector, and raw materials and equipment used in industry and to maintain infrastructure. During the electricity crisis of June 2017, the gate was also used to bring in fuel, initially designated for Gaza’s power plant. In recent months, the crossing had been operating for about three days a week.

Although the variety of goods entering the Strip through Salah A-Din Gate has increased gradually since 2015, it cannot replace the commercial crossing with Israel, Kerem Shalom, which can facilitate movement of a much higher volume of goods. Nevertheless, the continued operations of the gate with Egypt are essential to Gaza’s economy. The last time it was opened was on Wednesday, January 23.

Given the severe restrictions on movement of people imposed by Israel at Erez Crossing, movement through Rafah Crossing, limited as it may be, provides a vital life line for Gaza residents, and must remain open. Residents must not be held hostage in political disputes between actors in the region.