Egypt limits Gaza passage after PA quits border crossing

Palestinian security forces stand guard the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Monday, January 7. (AFP)
Updated 08 January 2019
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Egypt limits Gaza passage after PA quits border crossing

  • Cairo allowing Palestinians into Gaza, but not out; dispute stems from internal Palestinian rift
  • On Sunday PA announced its pullout from Rafah, accusing Hamas of undermining its operations

RAFAH: Egypt blocked Palestinians from entering the country from Gaza on Tuesday after Palestinian Authority (PA) personnel pulled out of the Rafah border crossing and Hamas officers took their place.

The dispute over the border stems from a rift between the Western-backed PA and Hamas who took control of Gaza more than a decade ago in a brief civil war.

Human rights groups say Rafah has been the sole exit point from Gaza for an estimated 95 percent of its population of 2 million. Citing security concerns, Israel maintains tight restrictions on Palestinian movement at its border crossings.

PA employees were deployed to Gaza’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt in 2017, a move that largely opened up Rafah for two-way traffic, after Egyptian mediation led to a Palestinian reconciliation deal, which has since faltered.

Blame game

On Sunday, the PA announced its pullout from Rafah, accusing Hamas of undermining its operations and detaining some of its workers. Since May, the crossing has been operating daily after sporadic openings for many years.

Upon arriving in Gaza, Hani Abu Sharekh told Reuters he hoped Egypt would soon resume full operation of the facility to allow passengers out of the coastal enclave.

“There is no alternative to Rafah crossing, it is the only window for most of our people to travel and to seek treatment and education,” Abu Sharekh, 48, said after returning from a trip to Cairo where his wife had received medical treatment.

Hamas said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the PA and has imposed a series of economic sanctions on Gaza to press the group to cede power, was destroying prospects for unity.

Passage

A Palestinian official who maintains close contacts with Egypt said Cairo had decided to open Rafah crossing only to Palestinians returning to Gaza, after the PA personnel withdrew.

Egypt’s restriction, the official said, showed its “disappointment at the faltering of the 2017 reconciliation agreement.” But a Egyptian official in Cairo said he did not expect Rafah to be shut completely.

“Egypt recognizes the importance of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the Rafah crossing is an important access point for Palestinians,” the official said, adding that his country would abandon its mediation efforts.

Brig.-Gen. Yehya Hammad, the Hamas-appointed director of the crossing, told Reuters his men completed their deployment and were ready to operate the passage.

After they took up their posts, the body of a Palestinian who had died in Cairo and two women accompanying the coffin were allowed to enter Gaza. The women’s passports were stamped by Hamas officers. A bus with passengers from Egypt then arrived, with more expected later in the day.

“We hope the Egyptian side will open the crossing permanently as it did in the past to allow stranded patients, students, residents of third countries and humanitarian cases to travel,” said Hammad, standing in the passport hall.

Separately, the situation in Gaza remained tense on Monday as the Israeli army carried out air raids against Hamas positions in response to a rocket being fired over its border.

The Israeli air defense system intercepted the rocket which was fired overnight from the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave, the army said.

Planes and a helicopter gunship then raided “terror targets within the organization’s military camp in the northern Gaza Strip,” the statement said.

A Hamas security official in Gaza said that Israeli aircraft carried out three raids, targeting a position of the armed wing of the movement near Beit Lahia in the north of the Palestinian enclave without causing any casualties.

The latest raids follow strikes by the Israeli army on two Hamas posts on Sunday, after balloons carried an explosive device over the border fence.


Israeli fire wounds 14 as thousands of Palestinians protest at Gaza border

Updated 49 sec ago
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Israeli fire wounds 14 as thousands of Palestinians protest at Gaza border

GAZA CITY: Thousands of Palestinians have gathered for a weekly protest along the fence between Gaza and Israel.
The Palestinian Health Ministry says that Israeli gunfire wounded 14 Palestinians and that three medics suffered from a barrage of tear gas that targeted their ambulance.
The protest appeared subdued compared to last week’s violence, in which one woman was killed and more than two dozen Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were wounded, prompting retaliatory Israeli air strikes.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel would decide whether to allow the latest delivery of economic aid from Qatar to flow into Gaza based on the level of escalation Friday.
Israel has been allowing Qatar to transfer batches of $15 million in aid, intended for the salaries of Gaza’s civil servants, directly to Hamas since November. But the shipment was delayed earlier this month after a rocket was fired from Gaza that caused no casualties but threatened to spike tensions between the bitter enemies.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers have orchestrated the weekly protests, in part to call for the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed when the group seized power in 2007. The blockade has devastated the local economy in Gaza, where unemployment exceeds 50 percent.
Israeli forces have killed more than 185 Palestinians and wounded thousands since the demonstrations began last spring. An Israeli soldier was killed in July.
Earlier Friday, Israeli forces demolished the family home of a Palestinian charged with fatally stabbing an American-Israeli settler several months ago.
Israeli soldiers surrounded Khalil Jabarin’s home in the southern West Bank village of Yatta and destroyed the apartment with explosives after his family cleared out.
Jabarin, 17, was accused of killing the US-born settler activist Ari Fuld at a mall near a West Bank settlement in September. Footage showed Fuld firing at his attacker before collapsing.
The military says dozens of Palestinians protesting the demolition hurled rocks toward the forces, who responded with “riot dispersal means,” which usually refers to rubber-tipped bullets and tear gas.
While Israel claims home demolitions serve as a deterrent to potential attackers, critics say the tactic amounts to collective punishment that inflames hostility.