For the first time in 2016, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ordered the Rafah border crossing to be opened on 13 and 14 February, state news agency MENA reported on Friday.
Connecting Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula with the Gaza Strip, the border crossing has seen an almost permanent closure since October 2014 when militants in North Sinai killed over 30 Egyptian soldiers.
The crossing was last opened on 3 and 4 December last year for humanitarian reasons since many Palestinians rely on the crossing for health care treatment in Egypt.
According to Gazan health officials, about a third of Gaza’s medical supplies used to enter the strip through Rafah but since the increasing shutdowns of the crossing thousands of Palestinians are struggling to acquire the much-needed medical care.
Gazans have also depended on Rafah for other vital needs such as fuel, construction materials and food.
Egypt has in recent years increased its efforts to clamp down on the tunnel-based smuggling trade between the two territories. It claims that the ongoing low-level insurgency in North Sinai is fueled by the transferring of weapons and other materials across the border from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, which has amounted to a lucrative business for smugglers.
In order to obstruct the smuggling trade, Egypt has demolished a number of tunnels and, since 2013, a “buffer zone” has been erected on the border with Gaza in an effort to better control the border area. In that endeavor, Egypt has destroyed thousands of residential, commercial, administrative, and community buildings, according to Human Rights Watch.
Israel and Egypt has upheld a blockade of the Gaza Strip since 2006 when Hamas seized control of the territory after legislative elections – the outcome of which was deemed by the National Democratic Institute and the Carter Center to “reflect the will of the people.”
Commenting on the situation of the Gaza border crossings, a spokesman for Gaza’s interior ministry said in 2014: “These crossings are the only lifeline for the Gaza Strip and a window to the outside world.”