Hamas says Egypt to close Gaza crossing to Palestinians leaving enclave

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Egypt will bar Gazans from crossing into its territory from Tuesday, the enclave’s ruler Hamas said, 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.

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 organizers said they faced threats.