What's happening at the Rafah crossing on the Egypt-Gaza border?

Palestinians have not been allowed to leave and no aid has entered the besieged enclave despite Egypt saying the crossing is 'officially' open

Volunteers from humanitarian aid organisations chant slogans during a protest at the Rafah border crossing, in Egypt, on Wednesday.  EPA
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US President Joe Biden claimed on Wednesday that his Egyptian counterpart had promised to open the Rafah border crossing to allow an aid convoy from Egypt into Gaza.

Rafah is the only border crossing between Egypt and the besieged coastal enclave, where aid is urgently required for the 2.3 million Palestinians who have been under Israeli bombardment and total siege since the Israel-Gaza war broke out on October 7.

The crossing is controlled by Egypt, and is the only exit from Gaza not controlled by Israel.

Egyptian authorities have insisted the border is technically open, despite no Gazans being able to leave the enclave, and no aid entering Gaza via Rafah since the outbreak of the war.

The National explains here.

Is the Rafah border crossing actually open?

Whether the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza is closed or open depends on who wants to cross.

“The Rafah crossing on our side is officially open,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told the BBC this week.

However, he said Israeli air strikes targeting the Gaza side of the crossing had rendered it “inaccessible”.

Israeli strikes have hit the crossing at least four times since October 7, including on October 9 and 10, according to Egyptian officials.

Egyptian teams have repaired the Gazan side of the facility at least once and, according to Reuters, they were repairing it again on Wednesday.

However, Egypt has so far not allowed Gaza's civilians to use the crossing to enter its territory.

Cairo does not want the mass migration of Palestinians into Egyptian territory, and Egypt's leaders have spoken out against Israeli suggestions that Palestinians could be forcibly relocated across the border in Sinai.

“The Egyptian people must be aware of the complexities of the situation and realise the magnitude of the threat. Egypt will not allow the liquidation of the Palestinian question at the expense of other parties,” said President Abdel Fattah El Sisi last week.

The Egyptian leader was more direct on Wednesday when he said Israel's bombardment of Gaza has surpassed being a military operation to become “an attempt to force the sector's Palestinian inhabitants to migrate and seek refuge in Egypt”.

Can foreign nationals cross at Rafah?

Egypt has said it will allow foreign nationals trapped in Gaza to cross the border, but only on the condition that humanitarian supplies are simultaneously allowed into Gaza.

There are an estimated 500 to 600 foreign or dual nationals trapped in the enclave, including US citizens.

Mr Biden did not mention foreign nationals on Wednesday when he said the border would be opened for 20 aid trucks.

Has aid been allowed to enter Gaza?

No aid trucks have entered Gaza from the Rafah crossing since the outbreak of the war.

Mr Biden did not give a timeline for his Wednesday statement that up to 20 aid lorries will be allowed to enter Gaza.

An estimated 100 lorries laden with humanitarian supplies have been queuing on the Egyptian side of the crossing for a week, waiting for the green light to move into Gaza.

Foreign aid supplies are also being flown in and stored at Al Arish, 45 kilometres to the west of Rafah.

Updated: October 19, 2023, 10:43 AM