Rafah: A border town caught between Egypt and Hamas
The Rafah crossing is seen by Israel as a weapons supply line for Hamas and a humanitarian lifeline by Gazans.
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Israel launched air raids Wednesday on the Palestinian side of Rafah, targeting at least 25 houses alleged to contain some of the 1,500 tunnels under the border that serve as the supply lifeline for Hamas. On Thursday, Gazans reported heavy bombardment in the Israeli offensive that has killed some 700 Palestinians, and the United Nations said it was halting aid deliveries after a UN truck driver was killed by Israeli tank fire.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Thursday that Egypt will ask Israel and Hamas for a temporary truce "that would lead to a consolidated permanent cease-fire." Then, he said, negotiations would take place with the European Union and the PA, which lost control of Gaza, on how to open Rafah.
Israel maintains that it will only accept a cease-fire if the deal provides for a mechanism to halt arms smuggling across the border. The issue for Egypt is how to allow humanitarian supplies and doctors across while not allowing Hamas militants in and out of Gaza.
So far Egypt has kept the crossing largely shuttered, which has drawn vehement criticism in worldwide protests for not allowing in more relief supplies and doctors. Demonstrators across the Middle East have accused it of helping the Israelis crush Hamas by rendering aid passage through the borders difficult.
On Wednesday, doctors from different organizations clustered on the Egyptian side of the border in hopes of crossing over to Gaza. None received permission to enter. "We have been trying to get permissions to cross the border," says Ahmad Elwi, a surgeon and member of the Cairo-based Arab Medics Syndicate. "We came upon a call from Palestinian hospitals who asked for medics' help since they haven't been able to cope with the increasing number of the wounded."