Rafah crossing: Why are people, aid stuck at Egypt-Gaza border?

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(NEW YORK) —¬†Thousands of people are seeking refuge at the Rafah crossing at the border of Egypt as Israeli retaliatory airstrikes continue to pummel Gaza, while tons of humanitarian aid await entry on the other side.

Egypt is preparing for the possible opening of the Rafah border crossing after it was hit at least four times by Israeli airstrikes. A security source said the latest Israeli shelling hit the Rafah crossing area on Monday.

The Rafah crossing was shut on Oct. 10 after it was hit by Israeli warplanes on the Palestinian side three times on Oct. 9 and 10.

Israeli forces are retaliating following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack from Hamas, the militant group that controls the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told CNN on Saturday that the Rafah crossing has been officially open on the Egyptian side, but that the “aerial bombardment” from Israel has damaged Gaza’s side of the border.

“The roads are not in a state that can have the transit of vehicles,” he said in the interview.

Egypt hopes to soon restore regular operations through the Rafah crossing, including for Palestinians seeking medical treatment in Egypt and getting foreign nationals on flights home, according to Shoukry on Monday.

“Until now, unfortunately, the Israeli government has not taken a position to allow the opening of the crossing from the Gaza side for the entry of aid or the exit of nationals of [other] countries,” Shoukry said in a presser with his French counterpart in Cairo.

Egypt hopes to allow the entry of critically injured Palestinians to receive treatment in North Sinai hospitals, a security source told ABC News.

Hospitals in the bordering Sinai region and other cities have been placed on alert to deal with the situation in Gaza, the Egyptian Health Ministry said Monday, and the health minister visited the border area to inspect emergency health measures there.

Egypt has also been awaiting proper authorization to ship aid into Gaza, Shoukry said.

Relief supplies sent from international aid organizations and countries — including Turkey, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates — and more than 100 Egyptian aid trucks have been piling up in the Sinai border region waiting to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing.

The border crossing has a tumultuous history in the Israeli-Arab conflict throughout the 20th century.

The crossing is located in the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian territory that was invaded by Israeli forces in 1967 during the Six-Day War — in which Israel also invaded the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian territory of Golan Heights.

The peninsula was later returned to Egypt, with Israel completing its withdrawal of forces in 1982, following the Camp David Accords and other negotiations.

The movement of people from Gaza to Egypt at the Rafah crossing was controlled by Israel until it relinquished control to Egyptian, Palestinian and European Union authorities in 2005 via the Agreement on Movement and Access, and Agreed Principles for Rafah Crossing.

However, people crossing into Egypt are required to be registered and approved by the government of Israel in advance of their crossing. Israeli forces monitor control over the movement of goods in and out of Gaza through the crossing.

The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs said the situation at the Rafah crossing “will remain fluid and unpredictable.”

“It is unclear whether, or for how long, travelers will be permitted to transit the crossing,” the agency said in a security alert Monday. “There may be very little notice if the crossing opens and it may only open for a limited time.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi spoke with President Joe Biden on Monday.

The two agreed on the importance of “protecting civilians and delivering humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip,” a statement from the Egyptian presidency said.

This comes after negotiations with the U.S. to pressure the Israeli government so it can open the Rafah crossing for five hours to allow the entry of foreigners in exchange for sending humanitarian aid into Gaza, a security source told ABC News on Saturday.

ABC News’ William Gretsky contributed to this report.

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