Hamas Preventing UN Staffer From Leaving Gaza

Palestinian civilians and medical personel wait for permission to enter Egypt at the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 3, 2015.

GAZA CITY (AP) — A United Nations official says the Islamic militant group Hamas has prevented a senior employee of the international organization from leaving the Gaza Strip.

The official said Mahmoud Daher, the Palestinian head of the World Health Organization’s Gaza office, was barred from leaving Thursday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the incident.

The official said Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since a bloody 2007 coup against rival group Fatah, announced two weeks ago that international organizations would need a Hamas-issued exit permit when leaving the territory into Israel. The organization had previously been exempt from acquiring the permit. The UN asked for a month to study the request.

The move appears to be an attempt by Hamas to exert its influence on the UN, which provides assistance to hundreds of thousands of impoverished Gazans through its United Nations Relief and World Agency (UNRWA), a dedicated organization for Palestinian refugees.

Dozens of Gazans had protested daily at the office in recent weeks in solidarity with a Palestinian hunger striker detained by Israel, demanding that the Red Cross help bring about his release. They tried to enter the building forcefully on Sunday, smashing garage windows and causing other damage.