Egypt closes Rafah crossing as tensions with Hamas escalate

The crossing point is the only transit point between Egypt and Palestine
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AFP/ SAID KHATIB  -   Miembros de las fuerzas de seguridad palestinas hacen guardia en el paso fronterizo de Rafah con Egipto, cerrado, en el sur de la Franja de Gaza, el 23 de agosto de 2021

Egypt has closed the Rafah crossing, its main crossing point linking Egypt's Sinai Peninsula with the Gaza Strip, following recent attacks between Palestinians and Israelis in a new episode of violence. No official statement has been issued from Cairo on the expected duration of the closure, which could indicate that the closure will be maintained depending on Hamas' behaviour in the coming days.

According to Egyptian officials, the border closure is related to Cairo's efforts to continue to mediate a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. They also indicate that the closure was for security reasons following the escalation that took place last Saturday between Israel and Hamas, after Israeli planes bombed sites in Gaza following Hamas-issued offensives that reportedly violated the ceasefire agreement reached, thanks to the mediation role sustained by Egypt. 

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AP/ADEL HANA - Demonstrators at the Gaza Strip's border fence with Israel during a protest marking the anniversary of a 1969 arson attack on Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque.

A Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman, Iyad al-Buzum, announced that Egypt had already informed them of the closure of the crossing, in both directions, starting this week. He added that the closure would "aggravate the humanitarian crisis" in the Strip, following the use of the crossing for the delivery of humanitarian aid and supplies.

The Rafah crossing, located in the town of Rafah, which is divided by the border separating the Palestinian region of the Gaza Strip from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, was kept open on an exceptional basis to deliver humanitarian aid to the Strip. 

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PHOTO/Presidencia egipcia/Handout vía REUTERS - File photo, trucks of an aid convoy loaded with supplies sent by the Long Life Fund to Egypt are seen at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

A Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman, Iyad al-Buzum, announced that Egypt had already informed them of the closure of the crossing, in both directions, starting this week. He added that the closure would "aggravate the humanitarian crisis" in the Strip, following the use of the crossing for the delivery of humanitarian aid and supplies.

The Rafah crossing, located in the town of Rafah, which is divided by the border separating the Palestinian region of the Gaza Strip from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, was kept open on an exceptional basis to deliver humanitarian aid to the Strip. 

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AFP/JAAFAR ASHTIYEH - Israeli soldiers patrol the village of Salem, east of Nablus, during a search after Palestinians threw stones at an Israeli settlers' car on the road to the settlement of Elon Moreh.

In a final move, incendiary balloons were reportedly launched from Gaza in response to Israeli shelling, causing fires, with no immediate reports of casualties. Palestinians also claim that the balloons are intended to "put pressure on Israel" to ease restrictions and blockades imposed on Gaza that prevent material from reaching the territory. This cross-border violence has occurred despite an Israeli announcement that Qatar would resume economic aid to Gaza, a move that had already been seen as a reinforcement of the delicate truce.

Last May, the Rafah crossing served as the primary enclave for providing health care, food and supplies to Gazans affected by the 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Following the ceasefire, Egypt kept the crossing open and pledged $500 million for the reconstruction of the Strip. 

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AFP/SAID KHATIB - A fireball rises after an airstrike in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, late on 23 August 2021.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the damage toll in Gaza had been largely significant. According to the ministry, 1,500 homes were destroyed during the attacks and more than 1,700 homes had suffered "irreparable damage". The Egyptian country was leading the reconstruction of Gaza after sending engineering teams and brigades that managed to enter the Strip through the Rafah crossing to begin the restoration of the area.

In this context, Egypt's mediation brought about a truce that had been maintained with some stability.  In this line, Cairo has continued to mediate between the two sides and has established itself as a protagonist in terms of mediation in such a complex conflict as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

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AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI - Israeli Arabs raise Palestinian flags and banners during a protest outside Megiddo prison in northern Israel on August 22, 2021.

From Cairo, Egypt demanded Hamas to stop violent attacks for good and adjust to peaceful popular movements. However, Hamas's latest moves have caused Egypt to step back from this situation, in a context in which it appeared that Egypt had managed to achieve a diplomatic victory.