When Hamas took over Gaza in early June, Egypt closed its border crossing and stranded six thousand Palestinians. While governments discussed the methods of returning these people to their homes, thousands were trapped in Egypt for nearly two months. Some of the travelers brought little money with them and consequentially could not afford lodging or food and were forced to seek refuge in mosques or help from aid organizations.
The reason why these individuals have been trapped for this long is that Israel and Hamas have been in disagreement over which border crossing should be used when these Gazans return home. Israel wants the stranded individuals to use border crossings located in Israel, where they would have greater control over who enters Gaza and who does not. Hamas demands that the only crossing to be used is the Rafah crossing in Egypt. This is because while the crossing is electronically monitored by Israel, the Israel’s control would be limited.
However, despite this disagreement between Israel and Hamas, Israel and Egypt made an agreement on July 28, that permits the return of several hundred stranded Gazans. The agreement called for 100 Palestinians to be transported into Israel and allowed to return to Gaza on July 29 and over 500 on July 30. While Hamas threatened to react violently if any other crossing besides Rafah was used, there have been no reports of violence.
Israeli officials approved all of the Palestinians who were permitted to return to Gaza. As a result, there are reports of favoritism and discrimination. Some of those left behind said that they were not able to register for return because they were members of the Hamas party, while others claim that the process was made easier for Fatah supporters.
While a small portion of those stranded in Egypt returned home, Egypt and Israel are continuing negotiations regarding the return of the remaining Palestinians.
For more information please see:
Reuters: “Israel wounds 7 in Gaza; hundreds return from Egypt” 30 July 2007.
Al Jazeera: “Gazans return home via Israel” 29 July 2007.
BBC: “Palestinians return to Gaza Strip” 29 July 2007.
International Herald Tribune: “Plight of stranded Palestinians nears end as more than 100 begin journey home” 29 July 2007.
Jerusalem Post: “Over a hundred Gazans return home” 29 July 2007.