The unrest gripping Egypt threatens humanitarian catastrophe in Palestine, with Egyptian authorities moving quickly to toughen the siege of Gaza as the densely populated area spirals into fuel and water crises.
The Egyptian military shut down the Rafah border crossing and tunnels connecting Egypt to Gaza on July 5, stranding thousands at the border and choking off one of the few openings that the 1.7 million people living in Gaza have with the rest of the world.
The closure "led to shut tunnels that are described as the only main lifeline to provide Gaza with fuel supplies, commodities, and goods that alleviate impacts of the Israeli siege," Euro-mid Observer warns.
Gaza border authority officials say that the numbers of people stranded will climb to tens of thousands in just a few days, Al Monitor reports. Numbered among them are workers, students, patients seeking medical care, and people making the pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Rafah closure has cut off the supply of Egyptian fuel, which provides approximately half of the fuel needed to keep Gaza's hospitals and schools open and generator-fueled electricity running, Euro-mid Observer reports. This means that only Israeli gas is available to many, at a price that is prohibitively expensive in an area beset with high unemployment and poverty.
Al Monitor reports on long lines at gas station as panic climbs:
Munzil Yaziji, a van owner, told Al-Monitor, “I have been waiting for seven hours and I have not even been able to fill my tank with gas yet. I came yesterday as well and waited the whole day, yet my turn never came. I provide for my family with this van. I transport students to schools and take them for trips.” Yaziji affirmed that he could not buy the alternative Israeli gas, given its high prices.
Euro-mid Observer warns that hospitals in Gaza are already reducing ambulance services, and catastrophe could break out in public hospitals. Meanwhile, 4,000 fishing boats could stall in the water, and fuel-run sewage treatment facilities face possible shutdown, which could unleash a sanitation and environmental nightmare.
The fuel crisis is compounded by the escalating water crisis, the Independent reports, with 95 percent of Gaza's only aquifier contaminated with sewage and chemicals, and 80% of Gazans already forced to buy their own drinking water. UN officials warn that the severe water shortage will make Gaza uninhabitable in a few years.
Al Jazeera reports on Gaza's ballooning water crisis:
Egyptian authorities say security concerns were behind the shutdown, alleging that there had been Hamas attacks at checkpoints in the Sinai.
Yet, Ali Abunimah with Electronic Intifada argues that "Egypt has habitually imposed collective punishments by closing Rafah." He argues the border blockade is a political maneuver in Egypt's unfolding power struggles, rather than a direct response to 'security' concerns.