RAFAH, Egypt — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a target of public outrage following the deadly weekend raid by Israeli commandos on a Turkish-led aid flotilla, kept the Rafah border crossing with Gaza open Thursday to people and supplies.
Since the May 31 raid, international pressure has mounted on Israel and Egypt to ease the three-year blockade on the Gaza Strip, prompting Cairo's move Tuesday to open the border to Palestinians seeking medical treatment.
The land and sea blockade on Gaza was imposed by Israel in 2007, after the violent takeover of the strip from the Palestinian Authority by Hamas, an Islamic resistance group that had once vowed to “wipe Israel off the map.”
Still, several Gazans coming into Egypt claimed that there were still thousands of sick Palestinians on the other side waiting to cross; one estimate was as high as 8,000.
Egyptian security officials at Rafah placed the blame squarely on Gaza’s Hamas-led government, saying that too many people were coming through without proper documentation, including a letter from their Ministry of Health stating the medical condition and required treatment.
Not just any Gazan can cross the border into Egypt. Even those carrying normally adequate travel documentation were denied entry.
Mohamed Abdel Rahman El Deremlee, 75, rolling through the border terminal in a makeshift wheelchair, came to Egypt to have an operation on his broken hip and leg. When his son Hazem, pushing the wheelchair, was turned away, he broke down.
“Of course I’m angry. Angry with Egypt, with Hamas, with Israel,” he said, shedding tears. “Why can’t the border just be opened for good?”
Aid supplies appear to be trickling into Gaza only at a snail’s pace.
On Thursday, two flatbed trucks bound for Gaza carrying 250 family-sized tents and almost 30 generators went into the border terminal only to sit, waiting for coordination and approval on both sides of the border.
Omar Ali Mohamed, the regional Sinai coordinator for the Egyptian Red Crescent, said that as many as 25 additional trucks carrying flour, rice, sugar and canned meat were en route.
Gazans stranded on the Egyptian side, in some cases for weeks, have also gained permission to head home, most carrying dozens of boxes of newly bought household appliances and electronics, items banned by the blockade.
Many Palestinians at the border wondered how long the terminal will stay open, and more than a few Gazans here believed the move was merely a publicity stunt to appease critics of Egypt, and that Cairo will close the gates within weeks.
Omar El-Shawa, 28, flew to Egypt from China, where he works as an engineer, the minute he heard news about the opening. El-Shawa hasn't seen his parents in more than three years. The risk of not getting back out of Gaza is well worth the price of seeing his mother and father, he said.
"I am sure Egypt opened Rafah for political reasons," he said. "They may close it within days, but it's worth it for me to finally see my family."