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Hamas takes control of Gaza goods crossing with Israel

Hamas accused PA employees of allowing Israel to transfer technological equipment used for espionage into Gaza
Truck carrying goods to Palestinians arrives at crossing in southern Gaza Strip (AFP/file photo)

Gaza's de facto ruling party Hamas took control of the Palestinian side of the blockaded enclave's main goods crossing with Israel, the strip's interior ministry and an official news agency said on Sunday.

According to sources in Gaza, Hamas suspected that Palestinian Authority (PA) employees have allowed Israel to transfer technological equipment used for espionage into territory controlled by the group, Haaretz reported.

Since a botched Israeli operation in Gaza last November, Hamas has increased security checks at the Kerem Abu Salem crossing, Haaretz said. One of the alleged collaborators, according to Hamas, admitted to receiving GPS equipment used in the operation with the help of a PA official.

Hamas won legislative elections in 2006 whose results were heavily contested by the Fatah-led PA, leading to a near civil war in 2007 in which Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank-based PA.

Hamas agreed to hand control of the crossings to the PA in 2017, as part of a since-failed reconciliation attempt between the two parties.

The PA administration at the goods crossing said on Sunday that Hamas had "expelled employees and banned them from entering the crossing", AFP reported.

Known to Israelis as Kerem Shalom and to Palestinians as the Kerem Abu Salem, the crossing in the south of poverty-hit enclave has been a lifeline for Gazans, who have lived under a crippling Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

Hamas confirmed that PA employees had left the crossing.

Security forces "put in place procedures dictated by security imperatives", Gaza's interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozum said in a statement.

"Palestinian Authority employees at the crossing have refused to cooperate on these procedures for a few days and today we were surprised by their departure," he added.

Haaretz reported that Hamas demanded PA officials undergo questioning and background checks, including fingerprinting.

Hamas said goods continued to pass through the crossing as normal.

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The Israeli defence ministry body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, COGAT, said "trucks were going through" into Gaza as usual.

Last month, Gaza's only crossing with Egypt was partially closed for 20 days after PA employees withdrew from the border point, accusing Hamas of interference.

Hamas employees quickly retook control of the Rafah crossing, the only way for Palestinians to leave the enclave that bypasses Israel.

Israel and Palestinian fighters in Gaza, including Hamas, have fought three wars since 2008.

Tensions have risen again since last March as Palestinians have gathered at least weekly along the boundary with Israel for protests, calling for an end to the blockade.

Israeli forces killed 254 Palestinians, including 47 children, in the Gaza protests in 2018, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report that came out in late January.

Another 23,603 Palestinians have been wounded over that same period of time, OCHA said. Two Israeli soldiers have also been killed since then.