Hamas members retook control of the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt on Monday after the Palestinian Authority withdrew its own staff, an AFP journalist and Hamas officials said.
The PA’s civil affairs authority had on Sunday accused Hamas of “summoning, arresting and abusing our employees,” leading it to conclude that their presence was futile, according to official Palestinian news agency WAFA.
The PA said that, until further notice, it will withdraw its staff from the Rafah border terminal, which is used by travelers moving to and from Egypt, raising the possibility that the crossing will shut.
An AFP journalist saw officials from Hamas, a terror group that is the de facto ruler of the Strip, at the border crossing’s main gate and inside accompanying offices in southern Gaza on Monday.
A Hamas border official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the terror group that rules the Strip had taken control “to avoid a vacuum.”
Rafah — the only way for Gazans to leave their enclave that bypasses Israel — was closed Monday due to the Orthodox Christmas holiday but it was not clear whether it would reopen as scheduled on Tuesday.
There was no immediate comment from Egypt about whether its side of the crossing would be open Tuesday.
Hamas’s interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozum said his organization “will protect the interests of our people.”
Hamas, a terror group committed to Israel’s destruction, seized control of Gaza in 2007 in a near civil war with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.
But the PA took control of Rafah in November 2017, as part of a deal for Egypt to reopen a border that had been entirely shut from August that year and largely sealed for years before that.
The deal, part of a larger reconciliation effort, has subsequently broken down and Abbas’s PA has taken a series of measures against Gaza.
Egypt has allowed the border to be opened regularly since August 2018, providing a lifeline to the enclave’s two million residents.
Last Monday, Fatah said Hamas had rounded up 500 party activists to prevent them from organizing events to mark the 54th anniversary of their party’s founding, scheduled for the following day. The Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza denied the accusations, saying it had only summoned 38 local Fatah leaders “to maintain order.”
“Shame on those who prevented the torch from being lit today in Gaza,” Abbas said in a speech at the PA presidential headquarters in Ramallah. “Unfortunately, whoever does that is a spy.”
In another incident, armed men trashed the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority’s television station in Gaza on Friday. Fatah blamed Hamas for the incident, but Hamas later arrested five men it said were former PA employees whose salaries were recently suspended.
On Thursday, Nabil Shaath, Abbas’s adviser for foreign affairs, told The Times of Israel that Abbas will meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Egypt to discuss reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah. The last publicly known time Abbas and Sissi met was November 3, in Sharm al-Sheikh, an Egyptian resort city.
In the recent past, Egypt has been the primary mediator between Hamas and Fatah.