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Explained: What Is the Rafah Border? Why Is It Important Amid Israel-Hamas War?

Palestinians have been gathering at the Rafah border crossing in the hope of leaving Gaza amid the Israeli bombings

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Reporter & Producer: Maaz Hasan
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

After a series of negotiations and intervention by the United States of America (USA), the Rafah border crossing was finally opened on Saturday, 21 October, to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza strip.

Israel’s military, on October 13, had directed the evacuation of over 1.1 million people from northern Gaza. Since then, Palestinians have been gathering at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip in the hope of leaving ahead of an imminent Israeli ground offensive.

What Is The Rafah Border Crossing

The Rafah border crossing is the southern most post of exit from Gaza. It borders Egypt's Sinai peninsula. The crossing is controlled by Egypt.

Palestinians have been gathering at the Rafah border crossing in the hope of leaving Gaza amid the Israeli bombings

The Rafah crossing border point at the south of the Gaza Strip.

(Credit: Reuters)

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Amid The Israel-Palestine Conflict, What's the Importance of The Rafa Border Crossing?

To answer this question, we need to understand the geography of Gaza Strip. To the east and the north of the Strip, it borders Israel. Towards the west of the Gaza Strip lies the Mediterranean Sea, which is also controlled by Israel.

The south point of Gaza lies the Egyptian border. So, Egypt is the only country that shares a border with the Gaza Strip apart from Israel. This is where the Rafah Border Crossing lies. So, this crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt is the sole point to exiting Gaza that does not lead to Israeli territory. 

Since Israel has imposed a 'total blockade' of Gaza, cutting electricity and stopping all essential supplies, this point also becomes the only  route for the entry of any humanitarian aid amidst the continuous bombings by Israeli Defence Forces.

History of Rafah Crossing

Until the 19th century, the Sinai Peninsula was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Subsequently, it fell into the hands of the British, which maintained control till the mid-20th century.

In 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour declared the creation of a Jewish 'National Home' in Palestine. Israel was formally formed in 1948.

Palestinians have been gathering at the Rafah border crossing in the hope of leaving Gaza amid the Israeli bombings

The Balfour Declaration made by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour

(Accessed by The Quint)

Gaza-Jericho Agreement Of 1994

In 1987, Palestinians declared the First Intifada, an uprising against the occupation of their land by Israel. This lasted till 1993. The Gaza-Jericho Agreement in 1994 gave Palestine autonomy and created a new system of shared control over the Rafah Crossing. 

Palestinians have been gathering at the Rafah border crossing in the hope of leaving Gaza amid the Israeli bombings

First Intifada, an uprising against the Israeli occupation in Palestine, lasted six years.

(Credit: Middle East Monitor)

This system gave the Palestinian Authority (PA) some control over security and screening procedures, but Israel kept control over most of the crossings security and operations, as well as retained the power to inspect and deny access to anyone. 

This part of the Agreement was later made null and void and replaced with almost the same language in the Oslo II Agreement.

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Ariel Sharon's Visit To Al-Aqsa in 2000

In 2000, right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, which is the second holiest site in Islam and revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, their most sacred site.

Palestinians considered it a 'provocation' which resulted in the Second Intifada. As a result, Israel took total control of Rafah in 2001. Israel disengaged itself from the border in 2005.

Palestinians have been gathering at the Rafah border crossing in the hope of leaving Gaza amid the Israeli bombings

Ariel Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa mosque in Old-Jerusalem in 2000.

(Photo Credit: AP)

The Hamas Takeover Of Gaza

Palestinian Authority signed the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) with Israel which gave Palestinian government the right to control the border but Israel held the authority to close the border whenever it chooses.

In 2007, the Hamas took control of Gaza and since then the border crossing has been mostly shut by the Egyptian government citing security issues in the country. Palestinians have to apply to Egyptian authorities to cross the border.
Palestinians have been gathering at the Rafah border crossing in the hope of leaving Gaza amid the Israeli bombings

Present day Rafa Border Crossing point.

(Photo Credit: Said Khatib/AFP)

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With Israel Bombing Gaza, Why Reopening Of Rafah Crossing Became Crucial

Gaza has been facing a total blockade and is running out of essential supplies with Israel rejecting any humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza since 7 October.

As per reports, hundreds of trucks filled with aid were waiting on in Sinai. On 18 October, US President Joe Biden arrived in Tel Aviv to show solidarity with Israel and an agreement seems to have been made for humanitarian aid to enter Gaza.

Biden said Egypt would allow up to 20 trucks in the first batch. However, after further delays and negotiations, the first consignment of humanitarian aid finally entered Gaza via the Rafah Border on 21 October.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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