Egypt's President Sisi says 'the problem of Rafah' must be dealt with, shuts down only Palestinian-controlled crossing for unknown period
As part of the state of emergency declared in much of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula following attacks on Friday that killed 31, Egyptian authorities closed the Rafah border crossing into the Gaza Strip early Saturday morning.
In a televised speech at a military college north of Cairo on Saturday, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told viewers that “the problem of Rafah and the Rafah border line and all the problems in the area should be approached".
During the most recent war in Gaza, Egyptian authorities sparked criticism from Palestinian and international groups for leaving the crossing closed during much of the 51 days of fighting which damaged much of the Strip's infrastructure.
Since a ceasefire deal was reached between Palestinians and Israeli in late August, Egyptian authorities had opened Rafah to Gazans with permanent residence abroad or foreign passports, and for people with serious medical conditions who have approval to travel from Gaza’s Health Ministry.
With the border now closed, Mohammed Omer, MEE's contributor in Gaza said those seeking treatment abroad for urgent health problems will be unable to travel.
However, Omer said rebuilding efforts in Gaza should not effected as, despite a major reconstruction conference held in Cairo this month which saw donors pledge $2.7 billion, required materials have still not been allowed to pass through the Rafah border crossing.
“Wait for a few days – there will be a big crisis in Gaza," Omer said, alluding to those waiting to cross at the border.
The closing of the crossing come after a huge suicide bomb blast on Friday which targeted an army checkpoint at the North Sinai Bedouin town of Sheikh Zuweid killed 20 soldiers. The explosion occurred around 12 kilometres west of the crossing point. Another soldier was killed when militants opened fire at an army checkpoint in al-Arish, the largest town in the desert landscape of North Sinai.
The Rafah crossing lies some 50 kilometres east of the main North Sinai town of al-Arish, and is the only land crossing into the Gaza Strip not directly controlled by Israel authorities.
Palestinian officials confirmed on Saturday that the crossing had been closed since 05:00 local time (03:00 GMT).