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Several Palestinian militiamen who tried to cross the Rafah border on Sunday on their way to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca [haj] were turned back by Palestinian Authority policemen and European monitors.
This is the first time that such people are banned from leaving the Gaza Strip since Israel relinquished control over the Rafah border crossing last summer.
One of those who were turned back was Jamal Abu Samhadanah, the overall commander of the Popular Resistance Committees in the Gaza Strip. The group consists of gunmen from various Palestinian factions and has been responsible for many attacks on IDF soldiers and Jewish settlers since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000. The group is also responsible for the attack on a US diplomatic convoy in October 2003 in which three Americans were killed.
Abu Samhadana, a former Fatah operative, arrived at the terminal accompanied by a large number of gunmen. PA security officers who spotted him informed him that he wouldn't be allowed to cross into Egypt and asked him to return to the Gaza Strip.
A senior PA security official told The Jerusalem Post that the Egyptian authorities were responsible for the ban. "The Egyptians don't want these guys," the official explained. "They threatened to arrest Abu Samhadana if he entered Egypt."
Abu Samhadana, who was recently recruited to the PA security forces as a senior officer, said he was surprised by the decision to prevent him from leaving the Gaza Strip. "The Palestinian security officials told me that the European monitors stationed at the Rafah terminal refused to allow me to travel to Mecca for the haj," he said.
He quoted the PA security officials as saying that his name appeared on a "blacklist" of 15 Palestinians who were not permitted to travel through the border crossing. Condemning the ban, Abu Samhadana said the decision proves that Israel was still in control of the terminal.
"This is a new humiliation for the Palestinians by [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and [Defense Minister Shaul] Mofaz," he complained. He said the Popular Resistance Committees and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip would soon prepare "surprises" to force the European monitors to rescind the travel ban.
Abu Samhadana did not elaborate, but PA security sources in the Gaza Strip expressed fear that the armed groups would try to launch attacks on the Europeans or disrupt work at the border crossing.
On May 2, 2004, Abu Samhadana's group claimed responsibility for the murder of a pregnant Israeli woman, Tali Hatuel, and her four children, who were shot when their car was ambushed at the Kissufim crossing. The group has also claimed responsibility for the assassination of former PA security chief Mussa Arafat last September.
The Popular Resistance Committees was established in September 2000. Its members include dissident Fatah gunmen and many former PA security officers, as well as members of Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad.