Palestinians cross to the Egyptian side of the border crossing with the Gaza Strip Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. in Rafah Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

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CNN  — 

A small number of Palestinians and foreign nationals have finally been able to leave Gaza, after weeks of intense negotiations resulted in the partial opening of the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

The border in the south of the besieged enclave has been seen as the last hope for Gazans to escape as Israel’s bombs rain down on the strip.

On Wednesday, some exited Gaza through Rafah following a deal brokered by Qatar between Israel, Hamas and Egypt, in coordination with the United States.

It comes soon after aid trucks were able to start entering the enclave in greater numbers in the opposite direction – a development that also required lengthy talks.

Rafah is the only Gazan border crossing that isn’t controlled by Israel, which shut its crossings with the territory following Hamas’ October 7 attack. It has emerged as a crucial location as the humanitarian situation in the territory worsens.

Here’s what you need to know about it.

What is the situation at Rafah now?

For the first few weeks of the Israel-Gaza war, the Rafah crossing remained shut – leaving Palestinians with no way out of the enclave.

But it was partially opened recently to allow a small number of aid trucks into Gaza. And then on Wednesday, it opened again to allow a limited amount of hundred injured Palestinians and foreign nationals out – the first non-hostages to be released from Gaza since Hamas’ October 7 attacks on Israel.

The injured Palestinians were quickly moved to hospitals in Egypt, while ambulances and consulate workers waited on the Egyptian side to process those admitted into the country.

In an initial update on Wednesday afternoon, officials on the Palestinian side said 110 foreign passport holders had departed Gaza. It was not yet clear if all those foreign passport holders had crossed into Egypt.

Meanwhile, aid workers have said the supplies that have reached Gaza are a fraction of what’s required for the 2.2 million people crammed into the enclave under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. Crucially, no fuel trucks have entered the crossing in weeks; Israel has repeatedly said fuel would be diverted by Hamas for its own war effort.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has described the situation in Gaza as “catastrophic” due to the lack of food, water, electricity and fuel, and called for more aid to be allowed into the territory.

Why is the crossing so important right now?

Located in Egypt’s north Sinai, the Rafah crossing is the sole border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. It falls along an 8-mile (12.8-kilometer) fence that separates Gaza from the Sinai desert.

Gaza has changed hands several times over the past 70 years. It fell under Egyptian control in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and was captured by Israel in the 1967 war, after which Israel began settling Jews there and significantly curtailed the movement of its Palestinian residents. In 2005, Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the territory, and two years later the strip was seized by Hamas.

Since then, Egypt and Israel have imposed tight controls on their respective borders with the territory and Israel blockades it further by restricting travel by sea or air. Israel has also enclosed the territory with a heavily fortified border fence.