Gazans eager to escape at Egypt border

Separated from the impatient crowd by a flimsy barrier, Palestinian policemen read out names, their voices barely audible above the din.

Those called file forward, relieved to finally be leaving the crowded and ramshackle Gaza Strip for neighbouring Egypt, some for the first time.

Many have a single large suitcase or holdall as they sit on benches in the gymnasium which serves as a waiting room in the southern Gazan town of Khan Yunis.

From there, they board a bus for the Rafah border crossing to Egypt, about 20 minutes away.

Since mid-May, after five long years in which the frontier was largely closed, Egyptian authorities have opened the crossing several days a week.

About 200 people make the trip in a day, a small number compared to the nearly two million people crammed into Gaza.

Yet it represents one of only two routes out of the strip and the only one not controlled by Israel.

Since Islamists Hamas seized control of the 360 square kilometre (139 square mile) territory in 2007, Israel has maintained a crippling blockade and imposes tight restrictions on its sole people crossing.

For much of that time Egypt has opened its Rafah border only intermittently, meaning those leaving didn’t know if and when they may be able to return.

Mosleh Derby, 21, waits in the sunshine, watching the tea and cigarette pedlars calling out their wares.

A medical student in Cairo, he had not been home to Gaza for three years until June for fear of getting stuck.

Despite registering for his return journey with the Gazan authorities in advance, Derby said he has been so delayed that he has already missed the first two weeks of class.

Some students who paid extra fees travelled earlier, he claimed.

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