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Hamas staff reclaim Egypt-Gaza border crossing after PA withdrawal

The PA withdrew its staff from the Rafah border on Monday [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 January, 2019

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Security forces from the Hamas-run authorities took control of there Rafah border crossing with Egypt after the Palestinian Authority withdrew its staff members.
Hamas-affiliated employees retook control of the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt on Monday after the Palestinian Authority withdrew its own staff, Hamas officials said on Monday.

The PA's civil affairs authority had on Sunday accused Hamas of "summoning, arresting and abusing our employees", leading it to conclude that their presence was futile, according to official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

An AFP journalist saw Hamas officials at the border crossing's main gate and inside accompanying offices in southern Gaza on Monday.

A Hamas border official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they had taken control "to avoid a vacuum". 

Rafah - the only way for Gazans to leave their enclave that bypasses Israel - was closed on Monday due to the Orthodox Christmas holiday but it was not clear whether it would reopen as scheduled on Tuesday.

Hamas' interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozum said his organisation "will protect the interests of our people."

Islamist movement Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 in a near civil war with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party.

But the Palestinian Authority 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.

There was no immediate comment from Egypt about whether its side of the crossing would be open Tuesday.

The PA's taking control of Rafah in 2017 was seen as a first step towards implementing a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah.

The deal has subsequently broken down and Abbas' PA has taken a series of measures against Gaza.

Egypt has allowed the border to be open regularly since August 2018, providing a lifeline to the enclave's two million 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 but critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

Ongoing tension

Despite Monday’s move to relinquish control of the port, tension between the two Palestinian factions have remained high in recent weeks. 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.

Last week, Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip arrested five men over a raid at the Palestinian Authority's media headquarters, in which valuable equipment was destroyed.

Five armed men attacked the offices of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation in Gaza City on Friday, trashing equipment worth thousands of dollars.

The media centre is funded by the occupied West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and houses Palestine TV and the Voice of Palestine radio station.

Staff and a PA official initially blamed the raid on Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, but the Islamist movement said disgruntled PA employees were responsible.

All five arrested are "employees of the Palestinian Authority whose salaries have been cut recently," the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said.

"It turned out that one of them was a Palestine TV employee whose salary was cut last month."

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