Severe restrictions on movement between the Gaza Strip and Egypt through the Rafah Crossing have worsened an already fragile humanitarian situation for the territory’s 1.7 million Palestinians, including increasing fuel shortages and limiting access to health services abroad, the United Nations said today.
The Egyptian-controlled Rafah Crossing is Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world, following the long-term restrictions imposed on the crossings controlled by Israel, notes the report of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory.
However, recent action by Egypt to counter illegal activities and insecurity in the Sinai have included imposing “severe” restrictions on the movement of people through the Rafah Crossing and closing down smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian-Gaza border.
At the same time, there has been only limited easing of the ongoing restrictions imposed at legitimate crossing points from Israel.
“Consequently, an already fragile humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has worsened,” states the report.
When open, the operating hours at the Rafah Crossing are four hours a day, six days per week – reduced from nine hours, seven days per week. Only authorized travellers have been permitted to cross, including foreign nationals, people holding visas, and patients officially referred for medical treatment abroad.
“As a result, the vast majority of Gazans, who do not meet these criteria, are unable to cross,” the report points out. “On average, fewer than 400 people per day have crossed in both directions since July 2013, about 29 per cent of the numbers who crossed in the first half of 2013.”
The report also notes that most of the illegal tunnels under the Egyptian-Gaza border – the main channel for the supply of construction materials and fuel – have been shut down. As of 21 September, only an estimated 10 tunnels were believed to be operating, down from approximately 300 prior to June.
The Gaza Power Plant has been forced to reduce electricity production and may shut down completely, if adequate fuel supplies are not urgently made available.
Fuel shortages and increased power outages, according to OCHA, are “significantly” impacting the provision of essential services, shortages of construction materials are impeding maintenance and rehabilitation of essential service infrastructure, and restricted access for people through Rafah Crossing is impeding access to specialized health services abroad.
The restrictions on the crossings controlled by Israel are part of the blockade the Government imposed on Gaza beginning in 2007 for what it called security reasons after the Hamas group, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement from the Strip.