A United Nations political agency suspended its missions to Gaza Friday after the Hamas authorities in the Palestinian enclave partly closed the key border crossing into Israel, a source said.
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process (UNSCO) will not send staff to Gaza until further notice, the source close to the organization told AFP on condition of anonymity, after Hamas imposed tough new restrictions following the assassination of one of its terror chiefs.
The decision was made, the source added, as frustration grows at the negative impact of the restrictions for aid work and Gazan citizens.
UNSCO is the key UN agency working on the currently stagnant Palestinian-Israeli peace process, and the restrictions will apply to its head, UN envoy for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov.
In previous conflicts between Hamas and Israel UNSCO helped to negotiate ceasefires, and Mladenov reports regularly to the UN Security Council.
Hamas, the Islamist terror group which runs the Gaza Strip, shut the Erez Crossing into Israel on Sunday after blaming the Jewish state for assassinating one of its terror chiefs, Mazen Faqha, 38, near his home last Friday.
Erez is the only crossing for people, although a separate route is available for goods.
On Monday, they reopened Erez for those entering Gaza, but men between 18 and 45 are still largely prevented from leaving the enclave of two million people.
Reports said Hamas was looking for the assassins, believing they are still in Gaza, but the knock-on effects have been significant.
Around half a dozen international aid workers have been prevented from leaving in recent days, a senior humanitarian source said.
So far, according to the World Health Organization, 79 Gazan patients have missed medical appointments in Israel because of the restrictions.
More than two thirds of Gazans are dependent on aid, according to the United Nations.
On Thursday, a coalition of more than 100 Palestinian NGOs and rights groups called on Hamas to reopen the crossing.
“Security goals should not come at the expense of human rights,” the Palestinian NGOs Network said in a statement.
The IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, wrote on his Facebook page in Arabic:
“The Hamas terror group has prevented the members of the Palestinian Olympic Committee to leave the Gaza Strip – and blamed Israel. It is a shame that Hamas does not invest more in its acting skills because the display it mounted today across from the Erez Crossing should be shown on the world’s largest stages – when the organization continues to lie and pretend it’s innocent.
“This morning 17 members of the Palestinian Olympic Committee were supposed to go from Gaza to the West Bank. Hamas refused them passage until 1 p.m. – the time the Erez Crossing closes down. As the crossing closed Hamas released the members of the committee to the Israeli side but since it was closed they turned back. Hamas created a false impression that Israel prevented their entering the country.
“We propose that the members of the committee present Hamas leaders as candidates for the world championship in lies and deceit – they will undoubtedly win first place,” Mordechai wrote.
Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza for a decade, largely restricting residents from entering. However, Israel grants hundreds of permits for medical, educational, business and other reasons per week.
Israel maintains the blockade to prevent Hamas, which avowedly seeks to destroy Israel, from importing weaponry, Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.
Originally from a small village in the West Bank, Faqha headed the Hamas office in Gaza tasked with launching terror attacks against Israel from and in the West Bank. His subordinates in the branch specialized in recruiting suicide attackers, collecting weapons and preparing explosive devices.
Faqha was responsible for sending a suicide bomber to carry out an attack in northern Israel in 2002 in which nine people were killed and 52 were wounded. Before his release as part of the Shalit deal, Faqha was serving nine life sentences for planning the deadly attack.
Dov Lieber contributed to this report.