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.


Truckloads of civilians leave Daesh enclave in Syria

Updated 22 February 2019
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Truckloads of civilians leave Daesh enclave in Syria

  • The village is all that remains for Daesh in the Euphrates valley region that became its final populated stronghold in Iraq and Syria
  • The SDF has steadily driven the militants down the Euphrates after capturing their Syrian capital

NEAR BAGHOU: Trucks loaded with civilians left the last Daesh enclave in eastern Syria on Friday, as US-backed forces waited to inflict final defeat on the surrounded militants.
Reporters near the front line at Baghouz saw dozens of trucks driving out with civilians inside them, but it was not clear if more remained in the tiny pocket.
The village is all that remains for Daesh in the Euphrates valley region that became its final populated stronghold in Iraq and Syria after it lost the major cities of Mosul and Raqqa in 2017.
The SDF has steadily driven the militants down the Euphrates after capturing their Syrian capital, Raqqa, in 2017, but does not want to mount a final attack until all civilians are out.
The US-led coalition which supports the SDF has said Islamic State’s “most hardened fighters” remain holed up in Baghouz, close to the Iraqi frontier.
Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF’s media office, earlier told Reuters that more than 3,000 civilians were estimated to still be inside Baghouz and there would be an attempt to evacuate them on Friday.
“If we succeed in evacuating all the civilians, at any moment we will take the decision to storm Baghouz or force the terrorists to surrender,” he said.
Though the fall of Baghouz marks a milestone in the campaign against Islamic State and the wider conflict in Syria, the militant group is still seen as a major security threat.
It has steadily turned to guerrilla warfare and still holds territory in a remote, sparsely populated area west of the Euphrates River — a part of Syria otherwise controlled by the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.
The United States will leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a US pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.
Trump in December ordered a withdrawal of the 2,000 troops, saying they had defeated Daesh militants in Syria.

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