Despite the fact that the agreement has been defunct since the Hamas takeover in 2005, a small team of European monitors maintains an office in the nearby city of Ashkelon.
“We are following very closely what is happening at the Rafah crossing,” said Benoit Cusin, a spokesperson for the monitoring team.
“We are ready to redeploy on short notice” should the parties of the 2005 border agreement request it. Until now, there has been no such request, he said.
For five years, the only traffic these people have monitored is to the EU Border Assistance Mission web site. Don’t hold your breath waiting for anyone to request EUBAM’s return to work.
• The PA’s denying passports to 30,000 Gazans. I’m sure that’s Israel’s fault too . . .
• According to Time, journos outnumbered Palestinians trying to leave Gaza. What to make of this?
And only several dozen travellers seemed to populate the hall at any given time. “We noticed today that there were more journalists than Palestinians,” observes Ahmed Abu Deraa, an Egyptian journalist from North Sinai.
And McClatchy News describes the Rafah opening as a “fizzle.”
By dusk, just 400 Palestinians had crossed into Egypt, and another 30 were turned back because their names appeared on a security “blacklist,” according to a senior Egyptian border officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to make public statements. About 150 Palestinians returned to Gaza from Egypt.
The numbers weren’t much different from a normal day when the crossing was open, sporadically, under Mubarak’s rule. And despite the council’s announcement that the border would receive travelers from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., local officers said they didn’t have the manpower to keep the station open past 5 o’clock.
So how do we understand the paltry 400 or so Palestinians leaving Gaza, compared to the hundreds of thousands who went on a 2008 shopping spree the likes of which the Sinai peninsula is unlikely to ever see again?
Time suggests the move is just a spin game by Egypt’s military junta:
More likely, others suggested: not a whole lot has changed. A huge proportion of Gaza’s population (those men ages 18 to 40) are still largely banned from travel. “The truth about Rafah is that they never opened it. Three days ago it was exactly the same,” said Deraa. When the military had announced the shift in policy, he initially expected to see thousands flood across the border. In the end, he says: “It was extreme propaganda — that has backfired because the journalists came and saw it.”
While widely applauded by the Egyptian public, a number of cynics dismissed the moves as superficial efforts to mollify the would-be demonstrators of Tahrir.
• Is it just me, or is the very idea of Hamas policemen running an international border disconcerting?