Hamas to allow UN, Red Cross workers to leave Gaza

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Ministry of Interior says Erez crossing, closed after a senior Hamas commander was killed, will partially reopen to let aid workers leave

Palestinians wait at Erez border crossing into Israel, in Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza Strip on March 26, 2017, after it was shut by the Islamist movement
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Saturday 1 April 2017 15:54 UTC
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Hamas said on Saturday it would allow foreign UN and Red Cross workers to leave Gaza after previously closing the only foot crossing with Israel.

Hamas shut the Erez crossing on March 26 after it blamed Israel for the assassination two days earlier of one of its military officials.

"In recognition of the need for humanitarian aid in Gaza, the Ministry of Interior decided to permit foreign workers of the UN and the Red Cross free movement to enter and leave the Gaza Strip," a ministry spokesman said in a statement.

Other restrictions remain in place, the statement added, but "humanitarian cases in urgent need of travel" would be examined individually.

On Monday, the authorities reopened Erez for those entering Gaza, but men between 18 and 45 are still largely prevented from leaving the enclave of two million people.

Reports said Hamas was looking for the killers of senior military figure Mazen Faqha, 38, believing they are still in Gaza, but the knock-on effects have been significant. Analysts believe Hamas might seek revenge for the killing of the commander. 

On Friday, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process suspended its missions to Gaza as frustrations grew over the restrictions, according to a source close to the organisation.

Around half a dozen international aid workers were prevented from leaving this week, a senior humanitarian source has said.

The World Health Organisation said that, until Friday, 79 Gazan patients had missed medical appointments in Israel because of the restrictions.

More than two-thirds of Gazans are dependent on aid, the United Nations says.

Erez is the only crossing for people, although a separate route is available for goods.

On Thursday, a coalition of more than 100 Palestinian NGOs and rights groups called on Hamas to reopen the crossing.

Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza for a decade, largely restricting residents from entering.

However, Israel grants hundreds of permits for medical, educational, business and other reasons per week.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.