Gazans at Egypt border seek to escape blockade

Egyptian authorities have opened the crossing several days a week since mid-May. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2018

Gazans at Egypt border seek to escape blockade

  • About 200 people make the trip in a day, a small number compared to the nearly two million people crammed into Gaza

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Separated from the impatient crowd by a flimsy barrier, Palestinian policemen read out names, their voices barely audible above the din.
Those called file forward, relieved to finally be leaving the crowded and ramshackle Gaza Strip for neighboring Egypt, some for the first time.
Many have a single large suitcase or holdall as they sit on benches in the gymnasium which serves as a waiting room in the southern Gazan town of Khan Yunis.
From there, they board a bus for the Rafah border crossing to Egypt, about 20 minutes away.
Since mid-May, after five long years in which the frontier was largely closed, Egyptian authorities have opened the crossing several days a week.
About 200 people make the trip in a day, a small number compared to the nearly two million people crammed into Gaza.
Yet it represents one of only two routes out of the strip and the only one not controlled by Israel.
Since Islamists Hamas seized control of the 360 square kilometer (139 square mile) territory in 2007, Israel has maintained a crippling blockade and imposes tight restrictions on its sole people crossing.
For much of that time Egypt has opened its Rafah border only intermittently, meaning those leaving didn’t know if and when they may be able to return.
Mosleh Derby, 21, waits in the sunshine, watching the tea and cigarette pedlars calling out their wares.
A medical student in Cairo, he had not been home to Gaza for three years until June for fear of getting stuck.
Despite registering for his return journey with the Gazan authorities in advance, Derby said he has been so delayed that he has already missed the first two weeks of class.
Some students who paid extra fees traveled earlier, he claimed.
Inside the gymnasium, many travelers reluctantly admit having paid between $1,500 and $2,000 for what they call “coordination” to travel.
Hamas interior ministry spokesman Iyad Al-Bozum denied that Palestinian border officials took payments.
“But some citizens can get in touch with officials on the Egyptian side of the crossing and make it easier for them to leave,” he said.
Bozum said there is currently a list of thousands of Gazans waiting to exit the strip, who are notified online when their turn comes.
Since Islamist president Muhammad Mursi was overthrown in 2013 and his Muslim Brotherhood movement quashed, Egypt has kept its Gaza border largely closed.
Cairo accuses Hamas, which began as an offshoot of the Brotherhood, of supporting militants fighting its security forces in the largely uninhabited Sinai region bordering Gaza.
Hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed.
Egypt destroyed many tunnels for smuggling under the border, exacerbating Gaza’s isolation.
But relations between Hamas and Egypt have thawed somewhat, allowing Rafah to be opened regularly since May.
Only students, those in need of medical treatment, Muslim pilgrims or people with foreign citizenship or residence papers are allowed through.
The flow of travelers remains a trickle compared to the past, said Abdallah Shahin, 32, who has been a porter at the crossing for 15 years.
Under Mursi, he said, “every day, 30 buses crossed the border, it was about 1,800 people.”
Nowadays, he says, “those who leave do not come back, they emigrate.”
Such is the dream of an architecture student who gives his name only as Khalil.
He wants to go back to Germany, where he was born but never obtained citizenship.
“One way, no return,” he said.
“Abroad it’s different... someone creative can succeed.”
Two of his friends have already left, he said, calculating the cost for himself at more than $3,000, including at least $2,000 to get across the Rafah border.
At the departure point the bus starts its engine to a cacophony of farewells.
“On the Egyptian side, if all goes well, you wait for around six hours. Otherwise you spend the night there and sleep at the border post,” said Derby, the medical student.
The forced overnight stay is because of Sinai curfew regulations preventing travel at night, an Egyptian border official told AFP.
The remaining trip to Cairo is a long one, because of repeated stops at security checkpoints.
“Before 2007 I used to arrive in Cairo in six hours, now it takes at least 48 hours,” said Hosam Al-Ajuri, 35, heading to complete his history studies in Egypt.
Left behind in Khan Yunis is Aida Baraka, 52, who since June has been waiting for permission to visit her sick niece in Jordan.
Although her name was not once of those posted online she came to try her luck anyway.
“Where is the humanity?” she asked, her niqab revealing only her dark eyes.
She accused Egypt of not doing enough to help.
“The nearest ones to us are the Egyptians,” she said. “I want them to be human!“

US accuses Iran of destabilizing Mideast with missile program

Updated 20 March 2019

US accuses Iran of destabilizing Mideast with missile program

  • Cites Iran’s support to the Houthi movement in Yemen and to Hezbollah in Lebanon
  • Says Iran's ballistic missile test and satellite launches violated UN Security Council resolution

JEDDAH: Iran’s missile program is destabilizing the Middle East, and Tehran risks starting a regional arms race by supplying weapons to armed groups in Lebanon and Yemen, a senior US arms control official said on Tuesday.

“Iran must immediately cease activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and halt the proliferation of missiles and missile technology to terror groups and other non-state actors,” Yleem Poblete, assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, said in a speech to the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Iran’s missile program is a key contributor to increased tensions and destabilization in the region, increasing the risk of a regional arms race,” she said, denouncing Iran’s support to the Houthi movement in Yemen and to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

She said Iran had provided ballistic missiles to the Houthis that were fired into Saudi Arabia and unmanned aerial systems to Houthi groups that enable strikes against land-based targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “We are committed to aggressively countering Iran’s regional proliferation of ballistic missiles and its unlawful arms transfers,” she said.

US President Donald Trump said when he quit the 2015 deal that lifted international sanctions against Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear activities that the agreement failed to rein in Iran’s missile program or curb its regional meddling.

The US has accused Iran of defying a UN Security Council resolution by carrying out a ballistic missile test and two satellite launches since December.

Poblete urged “all responsible countries” to enforce UN Security Council resolutions restricting the transfer of missile-related technologies to Iran. She also accused Iran of “pursuing pharmaceutical-based agents for offensive purposes,” but did not provide details.

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Dr. Majid Rafizadeh said Iran had the largest ballistic program in the Middle East. “Through its ballistic missile program, the Iranian regime appears determined to escalate tensions in the region and seek every opportunity to project its power in order to reassert its hegemony,” he said. “The international community ought to hold Tehran accountable for its military adventurism and violations of international standards.”