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Lawyers tell African Union: force Egypt to open Rafah crossing

Lawyers accuse Egypt of 'complicity in crimes against Gaza' by keeping border closed as Egypt says Rafah is not up for discussion at peace talks
A demonstration in Germany, where protesters demanded that Egypt open the Rafah crossing (AFP)

A group of lawyers has launched a lawsuit at the African Union, demanding that Egypt open its border crossing with the Gaza Strip at Rafah immediately, and accusing it of possible war crimes.

Despite consistent calls from leaders in Gaza, the border crossing has remained partially or completely closed on the Egyptian side throughout the conflict, making it difficult for aid to get into the Strip and for injured civilians to cross into Egypt for treatment.

There appeared to be some progress on Tuesday, when the Interior Ministry spokesperson for Gaza reported that two out of five aid trucks had been able to pass through Rafah into the Strip.

The opening of the Rafah border crossing remains among Hamas’s key demands at the current three-way talks in Cairo, but an Egyptian official said on Wednesday that the issue is not up for discussion.

Senior Egyptian officials said that the crossing could be opened only if it was controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and not by Hamas who have power in the Gaza Strip.

Now, four lawyers have raised a case at the African Union, seeking to force Egypt to open its Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip.

The lawyers were asked to raise the complaint by six individuals and groups, including the International Coalition for Freedom and Rights, the Arab Association for Justice, a South African group supporting Palestine and Egyptian activist Mona el-Tahawy.

The complainants believe that Egypt could have violated international law by failing to allow medical personnel, water, food and other essential aid to cross into the Gaza Strip.

One of the lawyers, Stanley Cohen, told MEE that “states have an independent obligation to protect the rights and well-being of other individuals, and not engage in affirmative acts that, in and of themselves, constitute war crimes.”

“The fact that Egypt is not bombing Rafah or shooting tank rounds into Gaza City does not mean that its conduct does not constitute a violation of international law.”

He expects that the suit, which demands an immediate opening of the crossing, might have an impact within less than a week.

“I do not believe that Egypt will snub its nose at this.”

Egypt, which was suspended from the African Union in July of 2013 due to the “interruption of constitutional rule” after former President Morsi’s ouster, has only recently been reinstated as a member.

Israel is due to be investigated by the United Nations Human Rights Council for possible violations of international law during its bombardment of Gaza, after a 23 July vote.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official demanded on Wednesday that Israel refuse to comply with any international investigations.

The official told Israeli news site Ynet News that the UN’s committee is composed of biased nations that will condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza regardless of their evidential findings.