The Hamas government on Sunday banned two senior Fatah officials from entering the Gaza Strip.

Abdullah al-Ifranji and Rouhi Fattouh had been dispatched to the Gaza Strip by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the context of efforts to end the crisis between the rival parties.

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However, as soon as the Fatah officials crossed the Erez crossing into the northern Gaza Strip, they were stopped by Hamas policemen, who later told them of the decision to turn them back.

“A Hamas security officer informed us that he received orders from the Hamas government to ban us from entering the Gaza Strip,” Ifranji said. “He expressed regret over the decision and told us to turn back.”

Ifranji, who is a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said he and his colleague had been entrusted by Abbas with holding meetings with representatives of Hamas and other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip to discuss achieving “national unity.”

He added that the visit to the Gaza Strip was originally supposed to take place earlier this month, but had been postponed until after a planned meeting between Hamas and Fatah leaders in Syria, which was eventually canceled due to the wide gap between the two sides.

Fattouh, a former speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, expressed regret over the Hamas ban, saying it would hinder efforts to reconcile with Hamas. He quoted a Hamas security officer as saying that the decision was taken because the visit had not been coordinated in advance with the Hamas leadership.

Ehab Ghissin, spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Interior in Gaza, said Fatah was responsible for the ban because of its continued measures against Hamas supporters in the West Bank.

“The massacre that the Fatah security forces belonging to [PA Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad must stop immediately,” the spokesman said. He demanded that the PA release all Hamas supporters being held in its West Bank prisons.

Ghissin pointed out that PA security forces recently arrested Tamam Abu Su’ud, a female teacher from the West Bank, on suspicion of being part of a Hamas cell that allegedly plotted to assassinate the PA’s governor of Nablus.

Hamas has strongly denied any link to the alleged plot, accusing the PA security forces of “lies and fabrications.”

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said that many of the Hamasaffiliated detainees were being tortured by Fatah interrogators in the West Bank. He said that several detainees who are being held in a PA prison in Jericho have gone on hunger strike to protest against their harsh conditions.

Barhoum denied the allegation that Hamas had conspired to assassinate the Nablus governor. He said the charge was aimed at justifying the ongoing crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank.

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