Egypt opens Gaza border crossing as humanitarian crisis deepens

Egyptians opens border with Gaza for the first time in 2018. (File Photo: reuters)
Updated 07 February 2018

Egypt opens Gaza border crossing as humanitarian crisis deepens

RAFAH, GAZA STRIP: Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on Wednesday after grave warnings about the humanitarian situation in the territory.
Palestinians rushed to Rafah, the only crossing point with a country other than Israel, when they heard it would open for the first time this year.
The Palestinian Embassy in Cairo said the crossing would only open for three days for travel and return of Palestinians, the Wafa news agency reported.
Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, Gaza has been under a strict Israeli blockade, with few people able to travel in and out.
In recent months, an already desperate humanitarian situation has become even worse, with the UN’s envoy for the Middle East peace process warning that the territory was about to “collapse.”
Ibtisam Qeshta, 57, waited in front of the gate at the crossing to travel with her son for treatment at an Egyptian hospital.
“I have a liver disease,” she told Arab News. “I got a medical referral from the hospital in Gaza for treatment in Egypt after Israel refused to give me a permission to go to Al-Maqassed Hospital in Jerusalem. My health status does not allow me to wait very long.”
Normally the announcement to open the crossing is made at least one day before, allowing people to prepare. But on Wednesday morning Egypt announced it would open immediately.
The last time Rafah opened was for three days in December after forces from the Palestinian Authority took control of the border post in November.
The handover of security was the result of a reconciliation agreement between the warring Palestinian factions Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank, and Hamas which controls Gaza.
Mohammed Al-Sawafiri, 24, said he has been waiting for several months to reach Egypt so that he could go on to complete a master’s degree in Europe, for which he has a scholarship.
“I tried to travel in December last year, but I could not because of the lack of time," he said as he waited by the entrance gate. “I was supposed to travel since last year, but travel was almost impossible. I have postponed the scholarship for the second semester, and I'm about to lose it entirely if I cannot travel this time.”
Samir Al Madhoun, 37, who travels with his wife, said he was trying to reach the United Arab Emirates.
”I have a visa for the UAE for the third time, but every time Rafah was open I couldn’t travel,” he said “I have a job there, I will go to the UAE if I could travel this time, and I will not be back soon.”
The Rafah crossing with Egypt is the only crossing for travel abroad, with the exception of a few hundred Palestinians with Israeli permits to travel to Jordan through the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel.
Egypt opened the Rafah crossing for just 21 days in 2017. Palestinians in Gaza hoped it would be permanently opened after the Palestinian Authority took over the crossings in November.
Egyptian officials say they are unable to open Rafah more regularly because of the deteriorating security situation on the Sinai peninsula in recent years. Gaza borders Sinai, where extremist groups have been waging an insurgency against the Egyptian Army.

Iran scrambles for European lifeline

A special meeting of the Joint Commission of parties to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) on Iran’s nuclear deal is in progress in Vienna. (Reuters)
Updated 26 May 2018

Iran scrambles for European lifeline

  • ‘Noose is tightening on Tehran’ in face of US sanctions, expert tells Arab News
  • US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

JEDDAH: Signatories of the Iran nuclear deal met in Vienna on Friday in a bid to save the agreement after Washington’s dramatic withdrawal earlier this month.

For the first time since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) came into force in 2015, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany gathered — at Iran’s request — without the US, which pulled out of the agreement on May 8 and said it would reinstate sanctions.

US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran — concluded under his predecessor Barack Obama — saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Speaking to AFP after Friday’s meeting, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, said: “We are negotiating... to see if they can provide us with a package that can give Iran the benefits of sanctions lifting.” 

“Practical solutions” were required to address Iran’s concerns over its oil exports, banking flows and foreign investment in the country, he said.

Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov struck an upbeat note after the meeting, saying: “We have all the chances to succeed, provided we have the political will.

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News that it would be against Europe’s interests to stay in the deal.

“The European nations should be cognizant of the fact that the beneficiary of the nuclear deal is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its militias,” he said. “Staying in the deal or submitting to the Iranian regime’s new demands will inflict damage on the EU’s geopolitical and national security interest in the short and long term.”

The EU could not thwart or skirt US primary and secondary sanctions against Iran, he said. Rafizadeh said Iran’s hard-liners were attempting to obtain concessions from the EU by threatening to pull out of the JCPOA.

“But from the perspective of the Iranian leaders, giving concessions means weakness. And although Iran is playing tough, it needs the deal to support Bashar Assad and its proxies.

“The European governments should be aware that the Iranian leaders — moderates and hard-liners — are playing a shrewd tactical game.

“The regime is playing a classic ‘good cop, bad cop’ game. The moderates set the tone on the international stage through their shrewd diplomatic skills and softer tone, while the hard-liners take a tougher stance to help the moderates win more concessions,” said Rafizadeh.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the noose was tightening on Tehran.

“European firms simply cannot afford the penalties imposed by US secondary sanctions on Iran. The Iranian plan to press Europe to compensate for President Trump’s policy decision to restart a crippling sanctions regime is unlikely to prove fruitful,” he told Arab News.

Recent revelations of a covert Iranian facility designed to develop long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be fitted with nuclear warheads will only complicate matters for Tehran as it scrambles for a European lifeline, Shahbandar said.

“The collapse of the JCPOA is likely to prove a major shock to the Iranian economy in the long run,” he said.