PA pulls staff from Rafah crossing after ‘abuse’ of its members

Palestinian Authority cites ‘arrest and abuse’ of its members as reasons to withdraw staff – a move slammed by Hamas.

A member of Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stands guard at the gate of Rafah border crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip January 7, 2019
The PA took over the Rafah crossing in November 2017 as part of a reconciliation deal with Hamas brokered by Egypt [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

Gaza Strip – The Palestinian Authority (PA) has said it will withdraw its staff from the Rafah crossing between Gaza Strip and Egypt, effectively shutting down the main exit point for the majority of its 2 million population.

The PA’s decision, effective Monday, came in protest against what it said was a crackdown on its members in the besieged enclave.

The PA accused Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, of “arresting and abusing” its employees and obstructing “the work of our crew”.

In a statement carried out by the Palestinian news agency, Wafa, the Fatah movement, which dominates the PA, said hundreds of its members were arrested by Hamas in the run-up to the 54th anniversary of Fatah’s founding.

The PA took over the Rafah crossing in November 2017 as part of a reconciliation deal brokered by Egypt.

‘A blow to reconciliation efforts’

But Hamas said the decision was part of the PA policy to “tighten the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip”.

“This move aimed at separating Gaza completely from the [occupied] West Bank and the rest of our Palestinian territories and contributes to complicate the already complicated Palestinian scene,” Hazem Qasem, the spokesperson of Hamas movement, told Al Jazeera.

“It’s a blow to the Egyptian efforts to achieve the reconciliation,” said Qasem, adding that the “irresponsible decision only serve our enemies”.

Gaza has been under a land, sea and air blockade imposed by Israel since 2007 when Hamas took over power in the coastal enclave after the Palestinian faction won the parliamentary election.

Palestinian factions reacted with outrage to the PA’s decision, which raised tension in the enclave at a possible closing of the key crossing.

Role of Egypt

On Monday, Hamas said they will run the crossing, but it’s unclear if Egypt will allow the Gaza rulers to operate the crossing.

Qasem said that they will try to ensure the continued opening of the crossing.

“We appreciate the Egyptian efforts. From evening hours, there are contacts between the Palestinian factions and the Egyptian authorities aimed at reaching a mechanism to continue the work of the Rafah crossing,” he said.

But the news has already caused tension and concern among Gazans, who depend on the crossing to go out of the enclave.

Yasmina Mohammed is worried that the PA decision might affect her travel to the United Arab Emirates for her wedding, as her fiancee could not get a visa to visit Gaza.

“I got engaged a year and [a] half ago. My fiancee and his family tried three times, two via Rafah crossing and the last time via Erez [Israeli controlled crossing] to come to Gaza for the wedding, but they did not get a visa,” the 22-year-old said.

Her father made frantic calls to his acquaintances to inquire about the crossing, as Yasmina is scheduled to travel on Sunday.

“We received a number of reassurances that things would go well and that I and my family would be able to travel through the crossing,” Yasmina said.

A policy to separate the Gaza Strip’

Political analyst Mohsen Abu Ramadan said the decision stems of “President Mahmud Abbas’s plan to limit the relations with Hamas”.

“Measures such dissolution of Palestinian Legislative Council, stopping funding of some activities and sectors in Gaza, cutting salaries of civil servants, etc were taken to force Hamas to let PA rule the Strip,” Abu Ramadan said.

“This is a policy to separate the Gaza Strip, isolate it and weaken its political resources,” he said.

“Now it is up to the Egyptian leadership to decide to continue opening the crossing with Hamas’s administration.”

Another Gaza resident, Hala Shehada, who returned from Qatar a week ago, is concerned that her mother who travelled last week to Bosnia may be stuck if the crossing closes.

“Last night, we spoke to mum who was very disappointed and confused after she learned the news that she may [be] stuck out,” the 25-year-old said.

“Her joy of meeting up with my brother and his family after 10 years has faded away.”

Source: Al Jazeera