By Nasser Najjar
Gaza: Hundreds of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip flocked to enter Egypt via the Rafah border crossing as it reopened Saturday after a four-year closure.
Among the first to cross the coastal enclave’s only border post not controlled by Israel were two ambulances ferrying patients from the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip for treatment in Egypt, as well as a bus carrying 50 visitors.
“I never took a vacation before. The only time I left Gaza was for medical reasons. I had to pay a lot of money to the Egyptian police and it was very humiliating,” Mohammad Abd Al A’al told Gulf News.
Egypt lifted a four-year-old blockade on the Gaza Strip’s main link to the outside world Saturday, bringing relief to the crowded territory’s 1.5 million Palestinians but deepening a rift with Israel since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian move will allow thousands of Gazans to move freely in and out of the area that has been under prison-like siege for years.
Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007. The closure, which also included tight Israeli restrictions at its cargo crossings with Gaza and a naval blockade, was meant to weaken Hamas, but it also fuelled an economic crisis in the densely populated territory.
Hundreds of Gazans gathered early Saturday as the first busload of passengers crossed the border at 9am. Two Egyptian officers stood guard next to a large Egyptian flag atop the border gate as the vehicle rumbled through.
Rami Arafat, 52, was among the earliest arrivals. “All we need is to travel like humans, be treated with dignity, and feel like any other citizens of the world who can travel freely,” Arafat said. Nearby, 28-year-old Khalid Halaweh said he was headed to Egypt to study engineering at Alexandria University.
“The closure did not affect only the travel of passengers or the flow of goods. Our brains and our thoughts were under blockade,” said Halaweh, who said he hadn’t been out of Gaza for seven years.
UAE calls for state on 1967 borders
The UAE called on the members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to work towards the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders so that Palestine can take its seat at the next session of the UN General Assembly.
Addressing the 16th NAM ministerial meeting in Bali on Friday, Dr Saeed Mohammad Al Shamsi, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organisation Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said peace will never prevail in the Middle East as long as the Palestinians are denied the right to establish their state on borders that existed on June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Al Shamsi said permanent peace requires Israel’s withdrawal from all the occupied Arab lands including Golan Heights and the occupied lands of Lebanon.
In a joint statement, NAM ministers “reaffirmed the long-standing international consensus recognising the Palestinian people as a nation and recognising their inalienable right to self-determination”.
— with inputs from WAM