In key step, Ha­mas gives up con­trol of Gaza bor­der cross­ings

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World -

THE Is­lamic mil­i­tant group Ha­mas on Wed­nes­day handed over con­trol of Gaza’s bor­der cross­ings with Is­rael and Egypt to the in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised Pales­tinian Author­ity, tak­ing the first tan­gi­ble step to­ward im­ple­ment­ing a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion deal with the ri­val Fatah move­ment.

Af­ter a decade of Ha­mas rule, the group’s se­cu­rity forces and bor­der con­trol agents were seen pulling away from the cross­ings that fa­cil­i­tate the move­ment of cargo and peo­ple in and out of Gaza. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Fatah-dom­i­nated Pales­tinian Author­ity quickly took up po­si­tions.

“From now on, we have no re­la­tion­ship with cross­ings and our em­ploy­ees are not present in­side them,” Mo­hammed Abu Zaid, the Ha­mas-ap­pointed di­rec­tor of cross­ing points, told re­porters.

Ha­mas seized con­trol from the Fatah-led forces of the Pales­tinian Author­ity in 2007. But af­ter a decade of an Is­raeli-egyp­tian block­ade, Ha­mas’ new lead­er­ship says the group is no longer in­ter­ested in gov­ern­ing Gaza. The block­ade has hit Gaza’s econ­omy hard, with over 40 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment and chronic power out­ages.

Un­der Egyp­tian me­di­a­tion, the two ri­vals last month an­nounced a pre­lim­i­nary rec­on­cil­i­a­tion deal, but many is­sues re­main un­re­solved. The sides are to meet in Cairo on Nov. 21 to con­tinue talks on two of the thorni­est is­sues, the fate of 40,000 em­ploy­ees hired by the Ha­mas gov­ern­ment and con­trol of Ha­mas’ vast ar­se­nal of rock­ets, mor­tars and ex­plo­sives. Ha­mas’ mil­i­tary wing has said it will not give up its weapons.

Still, Wed­nes­day’s han­dover marked an im­por­tant step for­ward. Of­fi­cials hope that the han­dover will lead to an eas­ing of the block­ade. Is­rael, which con­sid­ers Ha­mas a ter­ror­ist group, and Egypt say the block­ade was needed to pre­vent the flow of weapons and mil­i­tants in and out of Gaza.

“We fin­ished the first phase of the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with ex­cel­lence,” Ha­mas’ top leader in Gaza, Is­mail Haniyeh, said dur­ing a sem­i­nar in Gaza City. “We are go­ing to (dis­cuss) big is­sues.”

In Is­rael, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who heads COGAT, the de­fense body re­spon­si­ble for Pales­tinian civil­ian mat­ters, in­structed se­nior of­fi­cers to meet with Pales­tinian Author­ity rep­re­sen­ta­tives to dis­cuss the changes at the bor­der cross­ings.

“The meet­ing will de­fine the joint work­ing pro­cesses, the Is­raeli se­cu­rity de­mands and cri­te­ria for the cross­ings with an em­pha­sis on hav­ing no pres­ence of any Ha­mas of­fi­cial and any­one on its be­half op­er­at­ing the cross­ings or be ad­ja­cent to them,” his of­fice said.

Even so, changes on the ground were quickly vis­i­ble.

Just out­side the Erez cross­ing at the Is­raeli bor­der, a large Ha­mas check­point, where peo­ple were in­spected and in­ter­ro­gated when trav­el­ing in and out of Is­rael, was closed. Ha­mas of­fi­cers loaded the fur­ni­ture and equip­ment onto pickup trucks that rolled away. Other Ha­mas work­ers dis­man­tled trail­ers used as of­fices.

Pales­tinian Author­ity rep­re­sen­ta­tives quickly moved into the area.

At the Kerem Shalom cargo cross­ing, trucks loaded with con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als, fruits and con­sumer goods started trick­ling into Gaza. Raed Fa­touh, a Pales­tinian Author­ity of­fi­cial, said tar­iffs and taxes were now be­ing col­lected by his gov­ern­ment, with­out ad­di­tional fees Ha­mas had im­posed.

Kerem Shalom has been the prime fi­nan­cial life­line for Ha­mas in re­cent years, gen­er­at­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in rev­enue each month that it used to pay its em­ploy­ees.

One of the big­gest tests will be whether the Pales­tini­ans suc­cess­fully re­open the Rafah bor­der cross­ing with Egypt, the main gate­way for Gaza’s 2 mil­lion peo­ple to travel abroad. Egypt has shut­tered the cross­ing for most of the past 10 years.

At the cross­ing, huge posters of Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del-fatah el-sissi and Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas hung out­side the de­par­ture hall, be­side a gi­ant Egyp­tian flag.

Ha­mas with­drew all of its of­fi­cers from the cross­ing, and Pales­tinian of­fi­cials and Egyp­tian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials stood as the na­tional an­thems played.

Az­zam al-ah­mad, a se­nior Fatah of­fi­cial, said Rafah will re­open in two weeks. The hope is that a Euro­pean mon­i­tor­ing team will be posted on the cross­ing, re­viv­ing an in­ter­na­tion­ally backed ar­range­ment ap­proved in 2005. The short-lived deal had EU mon­i­tors and Pales­tinian Author­ity forces run­ning the cross­ing. It grants Is­rael mon­i­tor­ing via se­cu­rity cam­eras, a move Ha­mas re­jects.

The Euro­pean Union later is­sued a state­ment re­it­er­at­ing “its readi­ness to pro­vide its full sup­port to the ef­forts to re­unite Gaza and the West Bank un­der one sin­gle and le­git­i­mate Pales­tinian Author­ity.” It said that in­cludes its readi­ness to re­de­ploy its mon­i­tor­ing team, known as EUBAM, “if re­quested by the par­ties and as soon as the con­di­tions al­low.” It said “con­tacts with all rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers on pos­si­ble EU con­tri­bu­tions are on­go­ing.”

Euro­pean of­fi­cials have been talk­ing to Is­raeli and Pales­tinian of­fi­cials in re­cent weeks and sent a tech­ni­cal team to Rafah last week.

Mkhaimar Abu­sada, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Gaza’s al-azhar Univer­sity, said the bor­der changes would have no ma­jor im­pact in the short term be­yond the re­duc­tion of taxes on items en­ter­ing Gaza.

He said much would de­pend on Is­rael, now that Pales­tinian Author­ity staff were tak­ing over on the other side. – AP

com­mit­ted “pur­suant to poli­cies at the high­est level of the state.”

The UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly’s hu­man rights com­mit­tee is ex­pected to vote on the draft in mid-novem­ber. If ap­proved, which is vir­tu­ally cer­tain, the world body’s 193 mem­ber states will vote on the fi­nal text in De­cem­ber. All pre­vi­ous res­o­lu­tions con­demn­ing North Korea’s hu­man rights record have been adopted.

The draft strongly urges North Korea’s gov­ern­ment to end hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, in­clud­ing im­me­di­ately clos­ing po­lit­i­cal prison camps and re­leas­ing all po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, ad­dress­ing im­punity and co­op­er­at­ing with the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights.

It urges the gov­ern­ment to al­low all North Kore­ans free­dom of move­ment and free­dom to leave the coun­try, in­clud­ing to seek asy­lum, and to en­sure that those who are ex­pelled or re­turned to the coun­try are not pun­ished.

North Korea earns for­eign cur­rency from work­ers sent abroad who are poorly paid be­cause the gov­ern­ment takes most of their money, though the prac­tice has been cur­tailed by the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil in its lat­est sanc­tions res­o­lu­tion. The draft res­o­lu­tion urges the gov­ern­ment to join the In­ter­na­tional La­bor Or­ga­ni­za­tion and com­ply with in­ter­na­tional la­bor stan­dards.

Last week, the United Na­tions’ in­de­pen­dent ex­pert on hu­man rights in North Korea, To­mas Ojea Quin­tana, warned the as­sem­bly rights com­mit­tee that tough UN sanc­tions might be af­fect­ing the rights of civil­ians and called for an assessment of their im­pact.

The draft res­o­lu­tion doesn’t ad­dress the im­pact of sanc­tions, only the im­pact of di­vert­ing re­sources to ad­vance nu­clear weapons and bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­grams “on the hu­man­i­tar­ian and hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion of the ci­ti­zens” of North Korea. – AP

An em­ployee of the Pales­tinian Author­ity stands guard on the Pales­tinian side of the Erez check­point be­tween Is­rael and Gaza, Novem­ber 1. Photo: AP

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