Control of the Rafah crossing point by Israel: why is this border crossing so important?

Control of the Rafah crossing point by Israel: why is this border crossing so important?
Control of the Rafah crossing point by Israel: why is this border crossing so important?

It was a gateway for humanitarian aid, and even an exit for civilians fleeing the war. The Israeli army announced on Tuesday that it had taken control of the Palestinian part of the Rafah crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

On Sunday, rockets fired by the armed wing of Hamas from the scene killed four Israeli soldiers and injured around ten others. The IDF asked residents of the city, where more than a million Palestinians have taken refuge, on Monday to “temporarily evacuate” certain neighborhoods.

Until then, this border crossing was controlled by Hamas. But Israelis suspect the Islamist movement of circulating weapons through tunnels under Rafah. “We had clues, including the firing” of rockets on Sunday, “but also intelligence that the Gazan part of the Rafah crossing point (…) was used by Hamas for terrorist purposes,” explained the army.

“It’s a strategic location,” explains Elizabeth Sheppard-Sellam, director of the international and political relations program at the University of Tours. In 2005, when the Israeli army withdrew from Rafah after weeks of closing the crossing, it said it was necessary to maintain control. According to her, one of the IDF’s objectives now is to “disarm Hamas and verify that the members of the organization remain in the enclave to find them.”

The question of humanitarian aid at the heart of concerns

“This is the usual narrative decided by political power. It’s not because they found three tunnels that they destroyed Hamas,” says Guillaume Ancel, former officer and author of the book “Saint-Cyr, à l’école de la Grande Muette” (Ed. Flammarion) . For him, taking control of this passage above all allows the Israeli army “to lock down the territory”.

Rafah is also the main entry point for humanitarian aid for Gaza. The army dropped leaflets calling on residents to evacuate “to the expanded humanitarian zone of al-Mawasi”, around ten kilometers from Rafah. Residents and humanitarian organizations describe areas already overpopulated or destroyed by war. According to Guillaume Ancel, this takeover gives the IDF the possibility of closing the border post in both directions to avoid “possible departures towards Egypt”, while prohibiting “any entry of humanitarian aid”.

This Tuesday, the UN was denied access to the crossing point by Israel, according to a spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, has for its part called for humanitarian aid to pass through the Rafah crossing.

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