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Hamas warns of escalation after Egypt border closure, Qatari funds stalled

A member of the Palestinian Authority (R) shakes hands with Tawfiq Abu Naim (L), director general of the internal security forces in Gaza at the Rafah border crossing with Egypto, on January 7, 2019
SAID KHATIB (AFP)

As Egypt’s border crossing with the Gaza Strip remains closed and Israel is said to have frozen incoming Qatari aid to the blockaded enclave, extremist groups in Gaza have warned that  worsening circumstances for residents could lead to a violent escalation with Israel.

Though Qatari funds are supposed to reach Gaza within two days according to Hebrew media reports, the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt remains closed for Palestinians seeking to leave Gaza on Tuesday, a border official said, as infighting between Palestinian factions increases.

Gazans seeking to return from Egypt would still be allowed through but no one would be able to leave the Palestinian enclave, a spokesman for the Hamas-run authority in charge of the border crossing said.

"For now, it is just for one day, it is not clear if it will be extended," spokesman Wael Abu Omar told AFP.

The Palestinian Authority announced on Sunday it would withdraw its staff from the Rafah border crossing -- the only way for Gazans to leave the Palestinian enclave that bypasses Israel.

AP Photo/Adel Hana

"This decision comes in the light of the latest developments and the brutal practices of the de facto gangs in control in Gaza", said the Palestinian Authority in a statement.

It blamed interference by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, following claims of widespread arrests of members of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party in the enclave. Hamas has since resumed full control of the border.

The Palestinian Authority had retaken control of the border crossing in late 2017 as part of a reconciliation deal between Fatah, which dominates it, and Hamas.

The deal has since broken down and Abbas has taken a series of measures against Gaza.

Hamas won the last Palestinian parliamentary election in a landslide in 2006, triggering a dispute with Fatah.

According to reports by the Gaza-based Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, dozens of Fatah activists have been brought in by Hamas security forces since the end of last month.

Hamas personnel "forced some of the targeted individuals to sign documents in which they pledge not to join any activities in relation to celebrations of the anniversary of Fatah’s founding", said a press release. Local media said Al Mezan had reported close to 200 people had been called in by Hamas.

(AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Abbas is currently on a three day visit to Egypt, where he blasted Hamas for its role in a continued conflict.

“We are dealing with three issues that we can not accept: the situation with

the US, the situation with Israel and the situation with Hamas,” Abbas said in a press briefing in the Egyptian capital on Saturday.

The Hamas interior ministry confirmed they got the decision from the Palestinian Crossing and Border Authority director in Ramallah, Nazmi Muhanna, and that they would fill the void left by the withdrawal.

They also said that the decision would only lead to further isolation for Gaza.

Fatah is celebrating its 54th anniversary this week, with protests and demonstrations planned throughout the Strip. However, it remains to be seen if Hamas will allow such events to take place.

The two political movements have been in a bitter rivalry since 2007, when a Hamas victory in Gaza elections led to the ouster of the Ramallah-based Fatah.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

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