Dozens of students in the Gaza Strip organized a protest rally along the Palestinian side of the Rafah border on Wednesday, calling on Egyptian authorities to open the crossing so as to allow study-abroad students, medical patients, pilgrims and others access out of this densely populated territory.
This rally was reportedly organized by Islamic Bloc, students affiliated to the Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, and a coalition dubbed the “National Committee for Reconstruction and Ending the Blockade.”
According to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, protesters chanted slogans against the continued closure of the Rafah border. Egyptian authorities have kept this border crossing shuttered for the past four months, with the exception of a few days where they have allowed a trickle of Gazans pass through.
The Turkish Anadolu News Agency published a video from Wednesday’s protest rally in which participants can be seen holding up banners reading: “Our students are suffering from the closure of the crossing” and “Open the border.”
Other protesters called on the international community to allow essential goods and services into the Gaza Strip, with specific demands for the reparation of electricity grids, water pipelines and the provision of medical supplies.
Wissam al-Qettaty, one of the protest organizers from the Islamic Bloc told the Ma’an News Agency: “We have heard of many promises yet we have not seen them being fulfilled. We heard that there is a reconstruction effort, but unfortunately the homeless remain homeless. We have heard that thousands of patients will receive medical treatment, but every day we count the dead.”
“We have heard so much regarding the rights of Gaza’s students, about how they would be allowed to complete their studies abroad. But for the moment we are only witnessing a siege, and the tightening of the blockade,” he added.
Gaza’s population of over 1.8 million residents is largely deprived of their freedom of movement. Israel and Egypt have both tightened their grip on Gaza since Hamas forcefully drove out the opposition Fatah movement from this tiny coastal strip in 2007.
According to Egyptian authorities, the Rafah border was last opened for three days late last month, from January 20 to 22. During this period, just over 990 individuals are reported to have crossed the Rafah border, in both directions.
Palestinian news outlets have reported that in 2014, Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah border crossing for a total of 125 days throughout the year, while it remained closed for 241 days.
Located along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, the Rafah border is the only crossing point out of the this strip of land not controlled by Israel, which controls four other border crossing with Gaza.
Since the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and the military-led takeover in July 2013, Egyptian security forces have reportedly demolished the vast majority of smuggling tunnels between Gaza and the Egyptian town of Rafah, which has largely been destroyed in the process.
Egyptian authorities distrust the Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, especially given its links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The state officially designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization on December 25, 2013.
Security officials claim that Hamas is involved in terrorist operations in Egypt, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula. However, Hamas has repeatedly denied these claims.
On January 31, Egypt’s judiciary ruled that Hamas’ armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, is to be officially classified as a terrorist organization.