New Dispute Erupts Over Gaza Border Crossings as PA Pushes for Security Control of Strip

Hamas fumes after Palestinian Authority demands full control of Gaza security to allow border crossing with Egypt to return to full functionally

A portrait of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at a PA held passport control station in the Gaza Strip, on November 1, 2017.
THOMAS COEX/AFP

A week after the Palestinian Authority assumed control of the border crossings in the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Fatah on Tuesday found themselves fighting over control of the Strip.

Hamas expressed anger at Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s comments that the PA couldn’t guarantee the crossings’ orderly operation without assuming full security control over Gaza.

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At the weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah, Hamdallah called on the Palestinian factions, which are due to meet in Cairo on November 21, to find an agreed-on formula for security control of the Strip.

Hamdallah’s words were met with anger in Gaza, especially by Hamas, that said that any delay in the opening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which was run only by Hamas and has been only partially operational since they took control of the Strip, was unacceptable and would severely harm Gazans.

Members of Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas pray near the border with Israel, in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, November 3, 2017.
Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bazam said Hamdallah’s declarations were surprising, since Hamas had given the PA complete responsibility for all of the crossings and his people had abandoned their positions.

“As part of the preparations for implementing the reconciliation agreement, we suggested that the security services in Gaza would be responsible for ongoing security until the subject is regulated. But senior PA officials who came to Gaza refused and asked all Hamas members, including security personnel, to leave the crossings,” said Bazam.

He added that, according to the agreement between Hamas and Fatah, a PA security delegation was supposed to meet its counterpart from Hamas in the Strip in order to arrange ongoing security, but it has yet to arrive.

Currently, there is no Hamas presence at the Gaza border crossings. Their officials and security personnel who were posted on the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, for instance, left at the request of the PA. The two positions at the checkpoint near Erez, where Hamas conducted security checks and interrogations, and collected taxes from anyone who left or entered the Strip for Israel, was completely dismantled, likewise the Hamas position near the Kerem Shalom crossing.

People in the Gaza Strip speculated Tuesday on whether the PA was referring to control not only of the crossings but to the entire issue of security in the Strip, which has also yet to be arranged. Policemen employed by Hamas are still operating in the area.

This assessment only increased the frustration and anger of Palestinians in Gaza, who recognize that any dispute between the factions only delays the opening and proper functioning of the crossings – especially Rafah, which is the Gazans’ main artery.

Another issue under dispute is the model for operating the Rafah crossing, which the PA supports and would see European observers placed at the crossing, which was the practice until 2007, when Hamas assumed control of the Strip.

The observers kept track of the handling of the crossing and prevented the entry of hostile elements, including foreigners, and Israel had a veto over foreigners who wanted to enter the Strip via the crossing.

Hamas requested that the decade-old arrangement not be reimplemented, adding that the decision regarding who enters the Gaza Strip cannot be at Israel’s whim. Hamas explained that, previously, over 750 clerks, managers and security personnel worked at the border crossings, and that the organization expects that the border authority will integrate its employees into the new staff rather than dismiss them.

“The Cairo agreement is built on cooperation, and this cannot be ignored,” said senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk.

On Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas flew to Saudi Arabia for a surprise visit, where he will meet with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

A source close to Abbas told Haaretz that he will head to Riyadh via Sharm el-Sheik, after meeting with Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi.