Emad Khaymar, head of the public relations unit on the Palestinian side of the crossing, blamed the delays on Israel, which controls the flow of traffic through the crossing. 

 

Khaymar said more than 500 Palestinians were forced to sleep on the Egyptian side of the terminal on cardboard boxes because their buses were sent back by Israeli occupation forces after they closed the crossing.

 

He said an additional 1500 people were waiting in the border town of al-Arish.

 

"The situation is horrible. And there is absolutely no coordination with us on the matter, despite prior agreements," Khaymar told Aljazeera.net.


Intentional delays
 

"I think the Israeli side intends to create difficulties for us on the border ... it is a planned policy for the crossing to be so disorganised. They are very careful to create crisis after crisis on the crossing," he said, outraged at Israel's actions.

 

"This is the summer season and most of the travellers are Palestinian families returning to Gaza for their summer breaks, as well as many sick people coming back from medical treatment in Egypt," he added.
 

"I think the Israeli side intends to create difficulties for us on the border ... it is a planned policy for the crossing to be so disorganised. They are very careful to create crisis after crisis on the crossing"

Emad Khaymar,
head of the public relations unit on the Palestinian side

Khaymar said Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs Muhammad Dahlan had come to an agreement with the Israeli government to extend the hours of operation of the crossing several months ago, but that the agreement has yet to come into effect.

He blames this partly on the fact that the crossing is run by a private company with only 22 employees.

"That is a private operation and many of the employees refuse to work longer hours. This doesn't exonerate the Israeli government, however.

Working hours

"They can pressure them to work longer hours," he said.

"It is assumed that in the summer that there should be less security checks, faster processing. Two thousand Palestinians come into Gaza on a daily basis now, besides the ones that are waiting in al-Arish," said Khaymar.    

 

Rafah Crossing is the only outlet from the overpopulated Strip to Egypt and the outside world.

 

Palestinian travellers on the crossing often face long delays in overcrowded buses and poor sanitary conditions as they await Israeli approval to pass through.

A trip to from Gaza to Cairo or vice versa can take as long as 20 hours. 

 

A trip from Gaza to Egypt could
take Palestinians 20 hours

A spokesperson for the Israeli Airports Authority (IAA) told Aljazeera.net that in addition to the high volume of passengers of summer season, the delays were due to "security reasons" and "high threats of terror attacks".
 

"IAA is doing its best to overcome the current situation by taking all the necessary measures. So hopefully by the end of the week all passengers will pass the crossing to Gaza strip," Orly Maman told Aljazeera.net.

 

The situation on the overcrowded crossing is abysmal, according to Palestinians who have entered Gaza.


Up to three-day wait
 

"People are waiting two to three days simply to make it through, and they are literally sleeping on top of each other at the crossing - the young, the old, the sick," said one weary passenger upon her arrival.

Thirty-four-year-old Tala Kilany, who lives in Ram Allah, had arranged to meet her sister in Turkey, because Israel restricts travel permits from Gaza to the West Bank and rarely issues these permits.

 

Palestinians say Israel prevents
them from using the Erez crossing

"The situation on the crossing is simply frightening," she said, adding that one woman fainted in an overcrowded bus, forced to wait for three hours for Israeli approval to pass through.

Despite the planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip next month, the fate of the Rafah Crossing and other major Palestinian ports, such as the airport - shut down by Israel since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada (Uprising) in September 2000, and soon to be built seaport - is not clear.

 

Palestinians have been prevented from accessing the Erez Crossing into Israel and the West Bank, and have been denied access to all Israeli airports since the beginning of the second intifada.

The runway of the Palestinian airport in Gaza was also destroyed by Israeli occupation forces at the start of this intifada.  


No clarity on ports

 

An Israeli army spokesperson told Aljazeera.net that no decision had been made regarding control of the ports, adding that there is no coordination with Palestinians on the matter.

 

On 12 December 2004, the Israeli government closed off the crossing to Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians for 55 days after a bomb planted in a tunnel rocked a military base located there, killing five Israeli occupation troops.

Nine Palestinians died during the one-and-a-half month closure, according to human rights groups.

 

Gaza has been under a "total siege and closure" imposed by Israeli occupying troops on the Gaza Strip since September 2000, depriving millions of Palestinians from their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.   

 

All three of Gaza's terminals - two of them industrial - have been shut down, partially if not fully, for years, and at times intermittently by Israel, says the human rights group.