RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) - Egypt on Tuesday reopened Gaza’s main passenger crossing point for the first time in months for thousands of Palestinians who have been stranded on both sides of the border due to the coronavirus crisis.
Gaza residents holding Egyptian passports, foreign passports and patients seeking treatment abroad were to leave through the Rafah crossing point during its three-day opening, the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said. Some 500 people were scheduled to exit Tuesday, the first time the crossing has allowed departures since March.
Palestinians stranded in Egypt and abroad will be allowed to return home, the ministry added. Traffic for arrivals had been shut since May.
Gaza appears to have managed to keep the pandemic in check - in part of because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that severely restricts movement in and out of the territory. Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.
Gaza has reported 81 cases of the coronavirus, but all of the cases were people who were in mandatory quarantine centers set up by Hamas for anyone returning to the territory. There have been no reported cases of community transmission inside Gaza.
To prepare for thousands of Palestinians expected to return via Rafah, Hamas has opened more isolation facilities across the Gaza Strip.
Life in Gaza has returned to normal with the virus at bay. Last week, schools reopened normally. Mosques, wedding halls, cafes and gyms are also open.
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies that have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since 2007. On Tuesday, Israel closed its only commercial crossing point with Gaza in response to explosives-laden balloons being launched by Palestinians into Israel. The balloons started dozens of fires in Israeli farmland near Gaza.
Israel said the Kerem Shalom crossing will be closed until further notice, but the passage of fuel, food and humanitarian goods is not affected.
The balloons have broken a months-long lull that prevailed during the pandemic. Palestinian media reports suggested that Hamas is allowing the resumption of the balloon launches to press Israel into further easing its restrictions on Gaza and allow large scale economic projects.
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