ABDALLAH: Tragic stories from Rafah – students mourn their future 24Sep13 September 24, 2013


by Fatima Abdallah     -     Alakhbar English     -     20 September 2013

At the Rafah border crossing with Egypt – Gaza’s only bridge to the outside world – a young Palestinian man cries profusely. He scrapes a passenger bus with his fingernails as it departs toward Egypt. He wants more than anything to stop the bus and get on it.

Mohammed al-Astal’s situation is shared by dozens of Palestinian students from Gaza studying abroad who wanted to spend their holidays with their families in the Gaza Strip. Unable to travel – Egyptian authorities have closed the border for a week now, citing security reasons – they have now missed the start of the academic year. If their absence continues, they will not be able to carry on with their studies.

Astal, a medical student at al-Mansoura University in Egypt, told Al-Akhbar: “For two weeks, I’ve been coming to the Rafah crossing every day at six in the morning, hoping I would be allowed to travel so I can go back to school, but to no avail.”

More than 2,000 people in Gaza are dreaming of traveling to Egypt today or tomorrow now that the Egyptian authorities have opened the crossing for two days. Egyptian authorities announced on Monday, September 16, the opening of the Rafah crossing on Wednesday and Thursday from 10 am to 2 pm at the request of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Frustrated, the only thing those waiting can do is obstruct the buses full of travelers. Hamas security forces clash with individuals, pushing them back with batons until three buses manage to leave Rafah.

“All students have to come to the Rafah crossing again tomorrow morning. That is what the Palestinian embassy said in a piece of news posted yesterday,” said Hassan, a law student in Egypt. “Missing an entire month of the new semester means losing the whole semester.”

Hassan expressed his right to be on the list of passengers, along with medical patients and other urgent cases, especially after the Palestinian ambassador in Egypt, Barakat al-Farra, issued a statement on Tuesday requested that students come to Rafah after coordination with the embassy.

Maher Abu Sabha, director general of crossings at Egypt’s Interior Ministry, said: “Students stuck in Gaza do have a priority to travel, but there are also humanitarian cases of patients and people with residence permits that might expire at any moment. [These people] need to leave Gaza or else they will lose their lives outside the Strip.”

According to Abu Sabha, there are more than 4,500 Gazans registered on urgent travel lists. He pointed out that all of them can be considered humanitarian cases. They are patients, people with residence permits, and students.

Mufid al-Mukhalalati, health minister in the Hamas government, said at a press conference, “Closing the crossing has prevented more than a thousand patients from reaching Egyptian hospitals and receiving treatment and has also prevented foreign medical delegates from reaching the Gaza Strip.”

Egyptian authorities closed the crossing last Wednesday, September 11, after an armed attack was launched against the Egyptian military intelligence building in Rafah. The attack killed six Egyptian soldiers and injured 17 others.

Palestinians in Gaza continue to face increased difficulties at the Rafah crossing since the Egyptian army deposed former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi on July 3. In the meantime, Egyptian authorities reduced working hours at the crossing to four hours daily. While thousands waited at the Rafah gate, only 250 were able to leave the Gaza Strip.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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