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Source: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
8 August 2007

Gaza: thousands of trapped Palestinians finally able to return home

Thousands of Gaza citizens were stranded for nearly two months at the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which was closed following the Hamas takeover of Palestinian Authority institutions. A political solution was found at the end of July, allowing the gradual return of the Palestinians.

Abu Hadi finally smiles as he's able to board the bus that will take him home to Gaza.

The 72-year-old who had come to Egypt for medical consultations in May has spent the past eight weeks with his relatives in the Egyptian border town of Rafah, waiting for the crossing to open.

"I cannot wait to get back... I enjoyed seeing my family, but staying with them for two months has made me feel like a burden. It was not planned, I just waited until I was told that they would finally let us go home... 'Al-Hamdu Lillah'," he says, all sweat, as he takes another step into the bus. "I was lucky, but many others could not stay with parents or friends and they survived in harsh conditions, a lot ran out of money and had to sell everything to eat and drinkā€¦"

Abu Hadi, like many other Palestinians who had left Gaza in the early summer, suddenly found himself trapped when Rafah crossing was closed, following the internal armed fighting inside the Gaza strip in June. Some were medical patients, some workers coming back from abroad, some students, some small trades people and others simple vacationers.

And there was nothing to do but wait and pray.

The press spoke of some 5,000 to 6,000 Palestinians stranded in Northern Sinai, near the Gaza border. "Most of the stranded people are either staying in hotels or with relatives," said ICRC delegate Ziad Abu Laban upon his return to Cairo from a joint ICRC / Egyptian Red Crescent mission to the border at the end of June. "They are using all their money to rent rooms, and they rely on the hospitality of their families or on local

Egyptians who have shown solidarity in opening their houses to receive these brothers in distress," he added.

At the time of the visit, no large groups of Palestinians could be found in the open air and there were no camps in sight, just small clusters of people in mosques and schools. However, the situation worsened over the following weeks, and most of those blocked in the Egyptian towns of Rafah and Al-Areesh became more and more vulnerable, with their savings dwindling fast. By then, hundreds of destitute persons had to set up makeshift camps around schools and youth centres, depending on external aid to survive, including local authorities and charities.

The Egyptian Red Crescent then initiated a large-scale humanitarian response, with the support of the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, preparing and distributing thousands of individual food and hygiene parcels. The local Egyptian authorities in Al-Areesh facilitated this action by setting up distribution points.

At the end of July, a political solution was finally found and hundreds of Palestinians daily were able to cross back to their homeland. Instead of a direct entrance through Rafah terminal between Egypt and Gaza, they were ferried by buses from Egypt through Israeli territory towards the Erez passage between Israel and the northern tip of Gaza.

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