PA, Hamas use passports as ammo in battle between factions

Human rights organizations say the PA is punishing Gaza Palestinians affiliated with Hamas by depriving them of travel documents.

November 8, 2010 02:53
3 minute read.
A MUSLIM pilgrim at Rafah's passport control.

Rafah passport control 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have opened another front in their long-running war with passports as the ammunition.

Human rights organizations say the PA is punishing Gaza Palestinians affiliated with Hamas by depriving them of travel documents.

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Hamas has retaliated by depriving Gazans belonging to Fatah of their passports.

“Any person in Gaza could be subjected to this treatment,” Samer Moussa, an attorney for A-Dameer, a Gaza-based human rights organization, told The Media Line. “The PA automatically prevents people affiliated with Hamas from receiving passports. We have appealed to the prime minister on the matter, but have so far received no response.”

The Fatah-controlled PA and Hamas have been at loggerheads since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Hamas now claims to be the sole legitimate Palestinian government in Gaza while the PA, ruling over the West Bank, claims to govern in the name of all Palestinians.

Most of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are barred from leaving by a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. However, a small number of Gazans need a passport to exit the enclave for medical reasons or to attend the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca.

A coalition of Palestinian human rights organizations from Gaza and the West Bank met last week to discuss the ongoing inability of Gazans to obtain passports for what the PA’s General Intelligence Agency calls “security reasons,” a term it refuses to define.

Human rights organizations met this week in Ramallah with Palestinian Interior Minister Sayyed Abu Ali, who promised to resolve the issue.

Kamal Abu Madi, an official in Gaza’s Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry, said the Strip has been under “a passport boycott” since June 2008, when the PA stopped sending passports to Gaza. Over the past two years, it has denied at least 40 passport requests by Gazans, many of them students or patients seeking medical treatment abroad.

Although Hamas rules in Gaza, only the PA in Ramallah can issue internationally recognized travel documents. Therefore, every passport application must go through a security screening by the PA’s General Intelligence Agency, which refuses many Gaza applications on unspecified security grounds.

“If the matter is not resolved, we will appeal to the Palestinian Supreme Court,” Moussa said.

Abu Madi, the Interior Ministry official, said that Gazans were in need of an estimated 10,000 passports every month.

Sameer Zaqout, a field work coordinator for Al- Mezan, a Gaza-based human rights group, defended Hamas’s retaliatory measures, saying it had begun confiscating the passports of Fatah supporters only as a last resort, after warning local human rights groups that it was left with no choice.

“They said it was a measure of self-defense, nothing more,” Zaqout said.

Zaqout added that Hamas had begun confiscating Fatah loyalists’ passports shortly after the PA stopped granting Gazans their passports, but then stopped and waited to see how the PA would react. After the PA did nothing, Hamas recently resumed its passport confiscation policy.

Ghassan al-Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, denied any attempt by the PA in Ramallah to punish Hamas supporters. He attributed the problem to inevitable delays in issuing passports rather than an outright ban.

“It’s the right of every citizen to receive a passport,” he told The Media Line. “And indeed, everyone does receive his passport, even Mahmoud Zahar [a Hamas leader in Gaza].”

The PA has been issuing passports since 1995, using the identification numbers issued by the Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria, which administers West Bank areas not under full Palestinian control.

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