Hamas to allow UN, Red Cross officials to leave Gaza
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Hamas to allow UN, Red Cross officials to leave Gaza

After days of closure following assassination of terror chief, group says it will enable passage of humanitarian workers

Illustrative image of Hamas security forces standing guard at the Erez border crossing into Israel, in Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza Strip on March 26, 2017. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Illustrative image of Hamas security forces standing guard at the Erez border crossing into Israel, in Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza Strip on March 26, 2017. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Hamas will allow foreign UN and Red Cross workers to leave Gaza, the Islamist terror group ruling the Palestinian enclave said Saturday, after closing the only foot crossing with Israel.

Hamas shut the Erez Crossing on March 26 after it blamed the Jewish state for the assassination two days earlier of one of its terror chiefs.

“In recognition of the need for humanitarian aid in Gaza, the Ministry of Interior decided to permit foreign workers of the UN and the Red Cross free movement to enter and leave the Gaza Strip,” a ministry spokesman said in a statement.

Other restrictions remain in place, the statement added, but “humanitarian cases in urgent need of travel” would be examined individually.

On Monday, Hamas authorities 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 of terror chief Mazen Faqha, 38, believing they are still in Gaza, but the knock-on effects have been significant.

On Friday, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process suspended its missions to Gaza as frustrations grew over the restrictions, according to a source close to the organization.

Around half a dozen international aid workers were prevented from leaving this week, a senior humanitarian source has said.

The World Health Organization said that, until Friday, 79 Gazan patients had missed medical appointments in Israel because of the restrictions.

More than two-thirds of Gazans are dependent on aid, the United Nations says.

Erez is the only crossing for people, although a separate route is available for goods.

On Thursday, a coalition of more than 100 Palestinian NGOs and rights groups called on Hamas to reopen the crossing.

Mazen Faqha, upon his release after the Shalit deal in 2011. (Screen capture Twitter)
Mazen Faqha, upon his release after the Shalit deal in 2011. (Screen capture Twitter)

Faqha was shot dead last Friday near his home in Tel el-Hawa, a neighborhood in southwestern Gaza City, by assailants using a weapon equipped with a silencer. He was hit by four bullets to the head, Army Radio said, citing Gaza reports.

There was no official comment from Israel on his killing.

“Hamas and its [military wing] hold [Israel] and its collaborators responsible for this despicable crime…[Israel] knows that the blood of fighters is not spilled in vain and Hamas will know how to act,” the group said in a statement.

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, 38, 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.

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