Egypt and the Palestinians opened their shared border Tuesday for 24 hours to allow hundreds of Muslim pilgrims to travel from Gaza to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Israel had closed the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt before withdrawing from the area last month, and the sides have yet to reach an agreement on how to operate the border. Israel wants to monitor security-related issues at the crossing, but the Palestinians want to have full control over the border.
On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt agreed to open the border for just 24 hours to allow the hundreds of Palestinians to cross for a pilgrimage to Mecca during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Mecca is Islam’s holiest city.
By midmorning, at least 400 Palestinians had crossed into Egypt, and dozens more were waiting on line at the terminal. Palestinian security officers were checking passports before sending travelers to the bus depot to travel to Egypt.
Abdel Jawad Ali, 65, said he bought his tickets and got a visa for Saudi Arabia long before Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Standing at the border, now lined with Palestinian flags, Ali recalled that three years ago it took him more than two hours to get through the Israeli part of the crossing. On Tuesday, he had crossed passport control in five minutes, he said.
“Since Ramadan began, I have been praying day and night for God to fulfill my dream and to go to Mecca,” Ali said. “I hope that the border will be opened not only today, but forever. The Rafah border and all the borders are the oxygen that provide Gaza with life.”
Ramadan began earlier this month and will end in November. During the holy month, observant Muslims fast daily from daybreak until sunset, ending the day with celebratory feasts.