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Israel denies exit from Gaza to 2 Palestinian officials without explanation

Aug. 23, 2017 1:57 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 23, 2017 7:10 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli authorities denied exit from the Gaza Strip to two Palestinian officials Tuesday morning, according to Gaza-based organization the al-Mezan Center For Human rights.

PLO Executive Committee member Zakariya al-Agha and Kamal al-Sharafi, the human rights adviser to the Palestinian president, were on their way to the occupied West Bank for a work trip when they were denied exit from the besieged coastal enclave, without being provided a justification for the denial, according to al-Mezan.

Al-Sharafi is also president of Al-Aqsa University in Gaza while al-Agha also serves as the head of the Palestinian Committee of Refugee Affairs. Both of the officials carry Palestinian diplomatic passports.

“Al-Mezan strongly condemns Israel’s denial of the right to free movement, which impacts all Palestinian residents of Gaza, and stresses that these arbitrary procedures deprive Palestinians of their basic rights -- including rights to health, education and family life, which are rooted in access to free movement -- are in violation of international law,” the statement said.

The human rights organization called on the international community “to take immediate steps to stop the collective punishment of Palestinians that is a result of the closure of Gaza and demands that it is lifted.”

A spokesperson for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, told Ma’an that al-Agha and al-Sharafi “required prior coordination by the Civil Affairs Ministry in the Palestinian Authority with COGAT.” 

As a result of “not meeting this requirement,” Israeli authorities did not permit them to cross, the spokesperson said. 

Separately, Israeli forces detained a Palestinian man who works in the Erez area, where the Israeli border crossing is located, earlier on Tuesday morning.

Al-Mezan reported that Israeli forces took 43-year-old Ayman Rafiq Hamad to a detention center for interrogation after he arrived to work at a transportation company near the crossing, and did not receive an explanation for his detention. Hamad is from Beit Hanoun, the city on the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing.

According to the rights group, it wasn't until 6 p.m. that the Palestinian military liaison was informed by the Israeli side of Hamad's detention.

A spokesperson for the Shin Beit, Israel's internal security agency, was not immediately available to comment on the reasons behind Hamad's detention. 

Meanwhile, Israeli exit permits granted to average Palestinians from Gaza has dropped “dramatically,” Israeli NGO Gisha noted earlier this month, with the number of permits given monthly by Israel dropping to just half the amount issued in 2016.

Gaza's two million residents marked their tenth year under Israeli blockade last month.

Five years after the United Nations warned that Gaza could become unlivable by 2020, a new UN report determined that the situation there maybe have already reached that stage. In addition to ongoing energy and health crises, more than half of Gaza’s two million residents suffer from food insecurity.
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