Hamas says Egypt to close Gaza crossing to Palestinians leaving the territory

A member of Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stands guard at the gate of Rafah border crossing. (Reuters)
Updated 08 January 2019
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Hamas says Egypt to close Gaza crossing to Palestinians leaving the territory

  • Palestinian Authority took control of Rafah in November 2017, as part of a deal for Egypt to reopen the border
  • Hamas border official said they had taken control “to avoid a vacuum”

RAFAH: Egypt will bar Gazans from crossing into its territory from Tuesday, after the Palestinian Authority withdrew staff from the border point over alleged abuses.
The partial closure will raise fears over the impact on Gaza's two million residents, for whom a rare opening of the crossing in recent months has provided an opportunity to leave the strip, controlled by Hamas.
A statement late Monday from the Hamas-run interior ministry said Egyptian authorities had informed them the crossing "will be limited to only the arrival of individuals and the entry of goods".
It did not say for how long it was expected to be closed for those leaving, and there was no immediate comment from Egypt.
Rafah - the only way for Gazans to leave the Palestinian enclave that bypasses Israel - was closed Monday due to the Orthodox Christmas holiday but had been expected to reopen both directions Tuesday.
The PA's civil affairs authority on Sunday announced its staff would no longer man the crossing, accusing Hamas of "summoning, arresting and abusing our employees", according to official Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Earlier on Monday Hamas employees retook the post in what they said was an attempt to maintain border control after the shock PA withdrawal.
An AFP journalist saw Hamas officials at the border crossing's main gate and inside accompanying offices in southern Gaza.
Hamas' interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozum said his organisation aimed to "protect the interests of our people."
Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 in a near civil war with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas' Fatah party.
But the PA took control of Rafah in November 2017, as part of a deal for Egypt to reopen a border that had been entirely shut from August that year and largely sealed for years before that.
The PA's takeover of Rafah in 2017 was seen as a first step towards implementing a reconciliation agreement between it and Hamas.
The deal has subsequently broken down and Abbas' PA has taken a series of measures against Gaza.
Egypt has allowed the border to open regularly since August 2018, providing a lifeline to the enclave's residents.
Israel has maintained a crippling blockade of Gaza for more than a decade, in a bid to isolate Hamas and keep it from obtaining weapons.
Critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.
A planned event commemorating the anniversary of the founding of Fatah - due to take place in Gaza on Monday - was cancelled on Sunday, as organisers said they faced threats.


Daesh terrorists in Syria face two choices: Surrender or death

Updated 58 min 28 sec ago
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Daesh terrorists in Syria face two choices: Surrender or death

  • UN expresses concern over safety of 200 families
  • Thousands of people have streamed out of Daesh turf in recent weeks

OMAR OIL FIELD, SYRIA: Militants defending their last dreg of territory in Syria will be “killed in battle” if they do not surrender, a Kurdish-led force said on Tuesday ahead of a final showdown.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they are trying to evacuate civilians trapped in the last half-a-square km of Daesh’s once-sprawling “caliphate” before storming the terrorist holdout.

“We are working on secluding and evacuating civilians and then we will attack. This could happen soon,” spokesman Mustafa Bali said, declining to provide more details on the operation.

Daesh militants “have only two options, either they surrender or they will be killed in battle,” he said. Daesh declared a “caliphate” across large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.

A small hamlet of buildings in the village of Baghouz is all that is left of the proto-state, which at its height spanned an area the size of the UK.

The UN on Tuesday expressed concern over “the situation of some 200 families, including many women and children, who are reportedly trapped” in the Daesh holdout.

“Many of them are apparently being actively prevented from leaving by Daesh,” the UN said in a statement. The frontline in Baghouz was quiet on Monday afternoon. Tattered buildings and the twisted skeletons of cars dotted the side of the road.

At the entrance of the village, the SDF had turned an embattled building into a temporary base.

Thousands of people have streamed out of Daesh turf in recent weeks, but no civilians have made it out in the past three days.

Those that managed to escape have been ferried on trucks to Kurdish-held camps for the displaced to the north.

The International Rescue Committee said on Monday that 62 people, mostly children, had died on the way to the Al-Hol camp or shortly after arriving in past weeks.

Beyond Baghouz, Daesh still has thousands of fighters and sleeper cells scattered across several countries.

In Syria, it retains a presence in the vast Badia desert, and the terrorists have claimed deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.

An SDF official on Monday said that an announcement will be made this week.

“In a few days we will announce a great victory over the largest terrorist organization that waged war on the world and wreaked chaos and death everywhere,” Zeidan Al-Assi said in a statement.

Trucks entered Baghouz to evacuate remaining civilians on Tuesday, Reuters quoted an SDF source as saying. A Reuters witness in a location near Baghouz saw dozens of trucks moving along a road toward the village.