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Israeli forces detain employee of Turkish aid agency at Gaza border crossing

Feb. 14, 2017 10:35 A.M. (Updated: Feb. 14, 2017 4:57 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces detained an employee of a Turkish development agency at a border crossing between the besieged Gaza Strip and Israel on Monday.

Palestinian sources told Ma’an that Israeli forces detained Muhammad Murtaja, a coordinator for the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), and added that the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv was making calls to release him.

The Turkish embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson from the Shin Bet, Israel’s intelligence agency, told Ma’an on Tuesday that they could not comment on the case “due to a court gag order.”

TIKA is a Turkish governmental department working on development projects abroad. According to the organization’s website, it has funded a number of medical, agricultural, and housing projects in the Gaza Strip in the past three years.

In 2016, Israeli forces detained at least three employees of aid agencies at the Erez crossing, including an engineer working for UNDP whom Israel accused of diverting funds to Hamas.

Erez is the only land crossing between Gaza and Israel, although travel is heavily restricted by Israeli authorities as part of a crippling blockade on the coastal enclave in place since 2007.

Palestinians detained at Erez are often interrogated for several hours, sometimes for days, before they are either allowed into Israel or sent back to Gaza.

The Gaza Strip has suffered under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, when Hamas was elected to rule the territory. Residents of Gaza suffer from high unemployment and poverty rates, as well as the consequences of three devastating wars with Israel since 2008, most recently in the summer of 2014.

The UN has said that the besieged Palestinian territory could become "uninhabitable" by 2020, as its 1.8 million residents remain in dire poverty due to the Israeli blockade that has crippled the economy, while continuing to experience slow-paced reconstruction efforts aimed at rebuilding homes for some 75,000 Palestinians who remain displaced since 2014.
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