Egypt opens Rafah crossing for Gazan pilgrims

Egyptian authorities open Rafah crossing to allow a group of hajj pilgrims to travel to Saudi Arabia via Egypt.

Elad Benari ,

Gazans waiting to cross into Egypt through Rafah crossing
Gazans waiting to cross into Egypt through Rafah crossing
Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90

Egyptian authorities on Sunday morning opened the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza to allow a group of hajj pilgrims leave Gaza to travel to Saudi Arabia via Egypt, Gaza's crossings department said in a statement quoted by the Ma'an news agency.

The statement said that 500 pilgrims arrived at the Gaza side of the crossing early Sunday morning hoping to leave to Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula. From there they will head to Cairo's airport and continue their journey to Saudi Arabia for the hajj.

The crossing will operate on Monday for the same reason, while Egyptian authorities are also expected to allow a number of humanitarian cases to leave Gaza for Egypt, including students and patients, according to the crossing's department.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) embassy in Cairo said on Friday that during the two-day opening, Egypt would also allow Gazans stuck on the Egyptian side of the border to come back to Gaza, though the crossing department's statement made no mention of Rafah being open in both directions.

Egyptian authorities have kept the Rafah crossing virtually sealed since a terrorist attack in the Sinai Peninsula in October 2014, though they have temporarily reopened the crossing several times since that attack, mostly for the passage of humanitarian cases.

The crossing was opened recently in order to allow the passage of Muslim pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage. Terrorists took advantage of that fact to carry out a suicide bombing against security forces near the Egyptian border, killing a Hamas guard.

Egypt blames Hamas terrorists for providing the weapons for the lethal 2014 attack, which killed 30 soldiers, through one of its smuggling tunnels under the border to Sinai. Hamas denies the allegations.

Rumors have circulated in recent months that the Rafah crossing could open on a more regular basis, as Hamas seeks to improve ties with Egyptian authorities.

Hamas enjoyed good relations with former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a member of Hamas’s parent group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, relations have been tense under current President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who has cracked down on the underground tunnels between the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza, which terrorists use to smuggle terrorists and weapons from Egypt into the coastal enclave.