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Hamas permits exit of UN, ICRC employees amid Gaza lockdown

April 1, 2017 5:55 P.M. (Updated: April 4, 2017 4:36 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip allowed employees of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to leave the besieged coastal enclave through the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing on Friday.

Hamas has denied Gaza’s residents passage through the crossing in both directions until further notice, and implemented severe security measures across the small Palestinian territory, in response to the killing of Hamas leader Mazen Fuqahaa in Gaza City, which Hamas has branded as an assassination by Israel.

Gaza’s Ministry of Interior eased restrictions on Monday, allowing medical patients, those traveling to visit their relatives in Israeli prison, women of all ages, boys under the age of 15, men above the age of 45, and three Palestinian Authority ministers to leave the Gaza Strip through Erez, while all were being allowed to return to Gaza from Israel.

Official sources in Gaza told Ma’an on Saturday that the Ministry of Interior has notified the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov of the decision to allow UN employees to exit.

Erez is the only land crossing between Gaza and Israel for for the movement of people. While travel is heavily restricted by Israeli authorities as part of a crippling blockade on the coastal enclave in place since 2007, the Hamas-implemented closure came as a rare measure.

The ministry has also said that the Rafah border crossing that connects to Egypt -- which Egyptian authorities only open on an occasional basis -- would also remain closed if Egypt decided to open it. Palestinian fishermen have also been prohibited from fishing amid the lockdown.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh addressed a crowd in Gaza City on Saturday and warned the "killers of martyr Fuqahaa" that they would not escape punishment.

While Hamas has yet to provide proof to support the accusation, Fuqahaa's father, who lives in Tubas in the occupied West Bank, told Asra Radio that "Israeli intelligence officers came to our house many times and gave us messages that Mazen would be liquidated if he continued with his actions.”

On Thursday, the Israeli human rights group Gisha, which focuses on defending freedom of movement for Palestinians, especially in Gaza, strongly condemned the restrictions imposed by Hamas authorities.

The organization said in a written statement that “The obstruction of access this week comes on top of severe restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities for upwards of a decade.”

“Even the few lucky residents of Gaza to whom Israel has granted travel permits have been denied movement out of the Strip this week. Among those affected are medical patients in need of life-saving treatment; traders and businesspeople; Palestinians seeking access to consular services, including visa applicants with scheduled interviews; and people who have received permits to visit family under humanitarian circumstances.”

According to Gisha, between Sunday and Tuesday, the daily average number of exits via Erez was 73, less than a quarter of the daily average of 304 exits in February. The daily average number of entrances to Gaza was 151, slightly more than half of the 284 daily average entrances during February.

Regarding the ongoing ban on fisherman from going out to sea, Gisha said that Hamas was “harming thousands of families who are dependent on the fishing industry. Fishing has already been limited by Israel’s restriction of Gaza’s fishing zone to six nautical miles offshore.”

The group reiterated in their statement that “security concerns do not give any actor free reign to violate human rights. Freedom of movement is a fundamental human right, and is a basic precondition for the fulfillment of other rights, such as the right to health, to livelihood, and to family life.”
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