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Hamas urges Egypt to permanently open Rafah crossing

June 7, 2016 4:44 P.M. (Updated: June 8, 2016 12:18 P.M.)
Palestinians gather in front of the Rafah crossing between the southern Gaza Strip and Egypt on Jan. 16, 2015. (AFP/Said Khatib, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Hamas, the leading party in the besieged Gaza Strip’s de facto government, urged Egyptian authorities to permanently open the Rafah crossing along their shared border.

According to a press release published Tuesday, Deputy Chief of Hamas Political Bureau Ismail Haniyeh said that Hamas had made every effort to improve security along its border with Egypt’s Northern Sinai region, the site of a mounting insurgency by the Islamic State-affiliated group Wilayat Sinai (Sinai Province).

He insisted that Hamas has no military activity in the Sinai Peninsula or elsewhere. “Our position remains unchanged; we do not intervene in internal Egyptian affairs,” Haniyeh said.

“We welcome any Egyptian effort to resume national dialogue and fulfill past agreements.” He added.

Haniyeh’s comments came after Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing for four days last week ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The four-day window permitting travelers to enter and leave the besieged coastal enclave came three weeks after a two-day opening in May, which was the first time Egyptian authorities had operated the crossing in 85 days.

Egypt has upheld an Israeli military blockade on the Gaza Strip for the majority of the past three years, since the ouster of President Muhammad Morsi in 2013 and the rise to power of Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi.

Relations between Egypt and Gaza have been tense for years, as Egypt accuses Hamas of supporting insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula -- allegations Hamas strongly denies.

Egypt has destroyed and flooded hundreds of the tunnels as part of an ongoing security campaign in Northern Sinai against anti-regime militants launching attacks on Egyptian police and military personnel.

Palestinians in Gaza have relied on underground smuggling tunnels across the Egyptian border since 2007, when Israel imposed a stringent military blockade on the coastal enclave after Hamas took control there.The tunnels have since provided a vital lifeline for the besieged territory's more than 1.8 million residents.

Human Rights Watch last year slammed Egypt's military for its campaign against the tunnels, during which the group said some 3,200 families had been evicted from their homes near the border and hundreds of acres of farmland destroyed.

The group said Egypt had failed to provide adequate proof that insurgents were receiving support from Gaza.

The UN reported in February that only a few tunnels remained partially operational between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

The nearly nine-year Israeli blockade has plunged the Gaza Strip’s more than 1.8 million Palestinians into poverty. The destruction from three Israeli offensives over the past six years and slow reconstruction due to the blockade led the UN in September to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.
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