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Group protests after Hamas crimps movement for businesspeople

NGO says new rule keeping Gazans who haven’t paid their bills from crossing into Israel ‘contrary to law’

Palestinian employees work at a desalination plant during the inauguration of the first phase of the project on January 19, 2017, in Deir el-Balah in central Gaza. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)
Palestinian employees work at a desalination plant during the inauguration of the first phase of the project on January 19, 2017, in Deir el-Balah in central Gaza. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)

A major Palestinian rights organization expressed concern Thursday after the Hamas-led authorities in Gaza imposed new restrictions on travel for businessmen.

A new circular will restrict businesspeople from leaving Gaza through the Erez crossing into Israel unless they have paid all their water, electricity and other bills, the interior ministry recently announced.

The Independent Commission for Human Rights, a Palestinian NGO, said the move was a threat to Gazans’ freedom of movement, calling it “contrary to law.”

“It is a serious encroachment on the right of movement and travel,” a statement said.

Iyad al-Bozum, a spokesman for the Hamas-run interior ministry, argued the restrictions were necessary at a time when Gaza was suffering from huge shortages.

“It is not reasonable that businessmen and traders are well off but don’t pay their bills,” he told AFP.

The embattled enclave has seen chronic electricity shortages in recent weeks, with many homes receiving just four hours of power per day.

Around 70 percent of Gazans do not pay their electricity bills, according to the United Nations, either through inability to pay or lack of enforcement.

Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza for a decade but businesspeople can often get permits to come and go through the Erez crossing.

Jerusalem says the blockade is necessary to keep Hamas, labeled a terror group by Israel and the US, from building up military capabilities.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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