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Thursday, August 21, 2008

A new shortage in Gaza

There's a new shortage in Gaza, and I'm not sure they can even blame Israel for this one. It seems that Hamas has run out of 'Palestinian Authority' passports to issue.
The official explanation is that passport paper hasn't arrived from specialist printers in France. But passports are still being issued in the West Bank, and few doubt that the real reason is to punish Gaza's militant rulers - although it is ordinary Gazans who will suffer.

The document debacle is just the latest dispute in the bitter rivalry between the radical Islamic Hamas, which seized Gaza by force last summer, and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen. CiJ], whose supporters there were routed in savage fighting.

The few Palestinians Israel and Egypt allow to leave Gaza across their borders will now have an even harder time reaching the outside world as their rival governments compete for dominance.
Now given the state of relations between Fatah and Hamas, some of you may be wondering why Fatah was issuing passports to Hamas members at all. I was wondering that myself.
Following Hamas' Gaza takeover, Abbas severed relations with Hamas, but the two governments had worked together, albeit frostily, to supply passports and other basic services.

In March, however, Hamas banned the practice of Gaza residents applying for passports by mail from the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, saying only Hamas should issue the West Bank-provided documents to Gazans.

Last month, Abbas' government halted its regular monthly shipment of passports to Gaza, saying supplies had run out. Under interim peace accords with Israel, Abbas' government is the internationally recognized authority in charge of issuing Palestinian travel documents.

Yusef Harb of the Palestinian Interior Ministry said the Abbas government is simply waiting for a new shipment of passport blanks from printers in France. However, West Bank passport offices continue to issue documents.

A senior Palestinian Authority official, speaking on condition of anonymity because his comments had not been publicly acknowledged as official policy, said the passport bottleneck was meant to pressure Hamas into reinstating Abbas loyalists who were fired from the Interior Ministry in Gaza last year.

Riad Malki, spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, said that passport applicants would have to cooperate with the West Bank government based in Ramallah. The West Bank and Gaza are geographically separate entities located on opposite sides of Israel and, with the Hamas ban on postal applications, Gazans were in a frustrating impasse.
By the way, you still need a visa to visit the United States from 'Palestine.' But then you need one from Israel too.


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