Gaza Border Will Open During Ramadan, Egypt's President Sisi Announces

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has ordered that Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip be opened for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip is opened occasionally, providing Gaza's nearly 2 million inhabitants with some limited access to the outside world. Nevertheless, the opening for Ramadan would be the longest the border has seen in years. Ramadan begins during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and officially starts when the moon is spotted. It began on Tuesday or Wednesday this week.

Taking to Twitter, Sisi said that opening the border for Ramadan would "alleviate the burden of brothers in Gaza."

"The border with Egypt has always been a kind of safety valve for Gaza—any time the humanitarian crisis reaches a boiling point and tensions get too high, Egypt will open the border to alleviate the pressure," Chris Meserole, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, told Newsweek.

"What's interesting this time is how long the border will be open—not just a few days, but the whole of Ramadan. Normally the Egyptians might be reluctant to open the border that long, for fear that it would empower Hamas. However, the outrage in the Arab world over the plight of Gaza is now so high that the Sisi regime is willing to bear the risk," Meserole continued.

The Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the organization Hamas, is facing a growing humanitarian crisis, in large part due to the complete blockade maintained by Egypt and by Israel, which shares most of the enclaves' borders and has been the main area of Gazans work and trade.

Movement from Gaza has been restricted to varying degrees since the 1990s, but Israel imposed a virtually hermetic blockade in 2006, after Hamas took control of the Strip. Egypt began closing the border for long stretches of time after 2013, when Egyptian officials blamed militants from Gaza for attacks on Egypt's security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.

"Despite relaxation of some blockade-related restrictions in recent years, 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza remain 'locked in,' denied free access to the remainder of the territory and the outside world," according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "The isolation of Gaza has been exacerbated by restrictions imposed by the Egyptian authorities on Rafah, its single passengers crossing."

Human rights advocates say the border opening could provide some limited relief for people living in Gaza, but it is insufficient for the area to be open to the outside world only during Ramadan.

"It's important to note that just because the crossing is open that does not mean it is open to everyone. Often there are very long lines and limits as to how many can cross a day, and that has often meant that many Palestinians are not able to make it through," Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told Newsweek.

"More importantly, the opening of Gaza's crossings, both for people and for goods, should not be an exception but the norm. Gaza's path to growth and recovery is inextricably tied to the free flow of people and goods, and the siege policies of the past decade have only strangled the economic life out of Gaza," Munayyer continued.

Palestinians wait at Abu Yusuf Neccar Sport Hall to cross into Egypt following the opening of the Rafah border gate in Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, on May 18. Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Recently, at least 13 U.S. senators signed a letter calling on President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to do something about the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

"The political and security challenges in Gaza are formidable, but support for the basic human rights of its people must not be conditioned on progress on those fronts. For the sake of Israelis and Palestinians alike, the United States must act urgently to help relieve the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. We stand ready to work with you on this important matter," reads the letter from Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), among others.

Hamas handed over control of two of Gaza's border crossings to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) late last year, including the border crossing at Rafah.

"Since Hamas ceded control of the crossing to the Palestinian Authority last year, the Egyptians are also more confident that the humanitarian aid will get to where it needs to go," Meserole told Newsweek.

At the border with Israel this week, Israeli Defense Force snipers killed around 60 Palestinians who were protesting their living conditions and demanding access to their ancestral lands. Israel claimed it was defending its border from militants who tried to cross or damage the fence.