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Hamas official: Egypt not participating in Gaza siege

July 16, 2013 8:08 P.M. (Updated: July 17, 2013 5:50 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The government in Gaza is in constant talks with Egyptian officials to open the Rafah border crossing regularly, but does not consider Egypt a party to the siege, a senior minister said Tuesday.

Ziad Thatha, deputy premier of the Hamas-run government in Gaza, said Israel bore sole responsibility for the closure of the enclave.

"There is only one siege not two in Gaza and it is imposed by the Israeli occupation with the go-ahead from the US," Thatha told Ma'an.

Israel maintains a blockade on the Gaza Strip, closing its land border to most residents, limiting imports and exports and banning air or sea travel.

Most of Gaza's 1.7 million residents can only use the Rafah crossing on Egypt's border to enter or leave the enclave.

Egypt abruptly closed the Rafah terminal for five days in June after a rise in militant attacks in Sinai following the army's ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi. It partially reopened the border on June 10.

Egypt has also cracked down on cross-border smuggling tunnels, which have provided a lifeline to residents of Gaza under the siege.

Thatha said that contacts with Egyptian officials were constant and ongoing to convince them to open the Rafah crossing regularly.

The Israeli rights group Gisha on Monday urged Egypt to make the utmost effort "to maintain a reliable and sufficient travel route through its territory."

Gisha noted that Egypt is not an occupying power in Gaza and so had only humanitarian obligations toward the people of Gaza.

It said that Israel, which controls Gaza's airspace and territorial waters, had a duty under the law of occupation "to enable Gaza residents to lead normal lives, including the possibility of leaving Gaza and returning to it."

"So long as travel through Rafah is not possible, for whatever reason, Israel must allow Gaza residents to exercise their right to freedom of movement through other crossings, whether on land through the border crossings between Israel and Gaza or by sea and air, to the outside world," the group said in a statement.

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