Hamas eases Gaza lockdown amid manhunt

Gaza authorities ease travel restrictions after imposing a 24-hour closure after assassination of senior Hamas official.

    The partial closure came amid ongoing investigations into the assassination of a senior Hamas official [EPA]
    The partial closure came amid ongoing investigations into the assassination of a senior Hamas official [EPA]

    Hamas authorities partially reopened the crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel on Monday, after a one-day closure following the assassination of one of the group's top commanders.

    "From Monday morning, travel through the Beit Hanoun [Erez] crossing will be permitted temporarily for some categories," a statement from Iyad al-Bozum, a spokesman for the interior ministry in the Palestinian enclave, said.

    Anyone would be allowed to enter Gaza, the statement said, but those leaving would remain restricted to senior politicians, the sick, women of all ages, and families of prisoners.

    Gaza's medical care crumbling under Israeli siege

    Men and boys who have an Israeli permit to leave the Strip would be restricted to those under 15 and over 45.

    Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, closed the crossing on Sunday after blaming Israel for the assassination of one of its senior officials.

    Travel into and out of the Gaza Strip is heavily restricted by Israeli authorities - part of a crippling blockade in place since 2007 - but the Hamas-implemented closure was seen as a rare measure.

    Mazen Faqha, 38, who was shot dead by unknown gunmen on Friday outside his home in Gaza City. Hamas officials blamed his killing on the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad and its "collaborators".

    He was killed by four bullets from a pistol equipped with a silencer, police in Gaza said.

    Hamas did not give details as to the reason for closing the crossing, though there was speculation that authorities were seeking to prevent those responsible for the killing from leaving.

    Israel has not commented on the shooting.

    According to Hamas, Faqha formed cells for the group's military wing in the occupied West Bank cities of Tubas, where he was born, and Jenin.

    In Pictures: Thousands attend Gaza funeral of slain Hamas official

    Faqha's funeral on Saturday drew thousands of Hamas supporters into the streets with chants of "revenge" and "death to Israel".

    Ismail Haniya, until recently head of Hamas in Gaza, and Yahya Sinwar, who replaced him as leader, led the procession.

    The Erez crossing is the only passageway between Gaza and Israel through which people may cross.

    The Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing with Israel remained fully open over the weekend, as it only permits the passage of commericial goods. 

    A vast majority of the nearly two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip remain sealed inside the coastal enclave due to Israel's military blockade, in place for the last decade. Gaza's sole crossing with Egypt has also remained largely closed in recent years.

    Three large-scale Israeli offensives in the past eight years have left Gaza's sanitation, energy and medical facilities severely damaged.

    The United Nations has warned that due to lagging reconstruction efforts hampered by Israel's blockade and heavy levels of destruction, Gaza may become "uninhabitable" by 2020.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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