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Gazans 'held hostage' by Egyptian politics

The Egyptian military closed the Rafah crossing shortly after it removed Mohammed Morsi, preventing thousands of people from leaving or entering Gaza for work, study and medical treatment. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

RAMALLAH // Palestinans in Gaza say the turmoil in Egypt has trapped them in the territory without fuel and fearful of more hardship.

The Egyptian military closed the Rafah crossing shortly after it removed Mohammed Morsi as president last week, which has prevented thousands of people from leaving or entering the territory for work, study and medical treatment.

"Gaza is a trap. Once you get in, you don't know when you can get out," said Nawal Fahmi, 42, a teacher and native of Gaza who wanted to travel to her home in Saudi Arabia. "You are a hostage to politics."

The Israeli government imposes a crippling siege on Gaza and Rafah is the only crossing in the enclave that it does not control.

Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah crossing to people travelling in both directions yesterday to ease the crisis, which comes at the beginning of Ramadan.

But the unofficial Palestinian news agency Maan reported yesterday that the crossing would be open only until today.

Mr Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, an important ally of Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Gazans fear that the realignment in the region could lead to a return of the policies of Egypt's former president, Hosni Mubarak. He was an enemy of both the Brotherhood and Hamas who helped Israel enforce its blockade of Gaza, which was introduced in 2007 in a bid to topple Hamas.

Hamas, which officially calls for Israel's destruction, took control of Gaza in 2007.

Under the Brotherhood, Egypt had loosened some of the restrictions on Gaza, allowing some residents through the Rafah crossing but never permitting the passage of commercial goods

The recent closure comes amid fears of chaos in the Sinai Peninsula area of Egypt that borders Gaza, including multiple attacks by militants against both Israeli and Egyptian troops over the past two years.

Before last week's coup, Egyptian soldiers were destroying the tunnel networks through which goods flow to Gaza, including vital construction materials that Israel does not let into the territory. They are also used to supply Hamas with weapons.

The tunnel crackdown and Egypt's own fuel shortages have led to a similar problem in Gaza. The territory's 1.7 million residents rely heavily on Egyptian-subsidised fuel, which costs a fraction of that brought in from Israel.

"You have to wait at a petrol station for at least four to six hours to get only a half a tank of petrol," said Fadi Abu Shammala, a father of two who lives in Gaza City.

"It's an emergency."

Gaza's electricity company has begun rationing fuel to ensure 12 hours per day of power in the territory, which already struggles with chronic blackouts. The fuel shortage also has caused inflation to surge across the territory, with taxis and other businesses forced to hike their prices.

"There are sharp price rises in goods that are restricted from passing through Israeli crossings and which, therefore, enter through the tunnels," said Sari Bashi, executive director of Gisha, an Israeli non-governmental organisation that promotes freedom of movement for Gaza residents.

"The cost of some products has doubled."

Guy Inbar, an official in Israel's defence ministry, said his country could increase deliveries of fuel and other goods to Gaza.

"All Palestinians need to do is to ask for them," he said.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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