World Bulletin / News Desk
The Palestinian group Hamas on Tuesday called Egypt's curbs on movement through its crossing with the Gaza Strip a "crime against humanity", in an unprecedented rebuke of its Arab neighbour that further frays their worsening ties.
The closures have cut off imports of medicine and aid to the impoverished coastal enclave and prevented travel by thousands of Gazans and patients seeking treatment abroad.
Usually open for four to six days per month, the Rafah crossing has now been shut to normal passenger traffic for 40 straight days - although Egyptian authorities have opened it twice in that period for pilgims to Mecca.
"Egyptian authorities' insistence on closing the Rafah crossing and tightening the blockade of Gaza ... is a crime against humanity by every criteria and a crime against the Palestinian people," said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the movement which rules Gaza.
A Hamas official said on Tuesday Egypt had, for the first time, in the past few days cut off contacts with the Gaza government because of the dispute over the crossing, which Egyptian officials did not immediately confirm to Reuters.
Relations between Cairo and Gaza have steadily declined since Egypt's army ousted the country's first elected president, Mohamed Mursi, in July.
Hamas is an offshoot of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt's military-backed government has declared a terrorist organisation.
Egypt has banned all Hamas activities in the country, accusing it of supporting an insurgency that has spread quickly, targeting security forces near daily, since Mursi's fall, allegations the Palestinian group denies.
An Egyptian security official told Reuters that security concerns dictate the status of the crossing and that they regularly open it for humanitarian reasons, such as for patients seeking treatment.
Egypt has also demolished hundreds of cross-border smuggling tunnels through which basic goods such as food and fuel, were transported into Gaza.
Israel has maintained strict curbs on the movement of goods and people in Gaza since Hamas took control there following bloody battles with Palestinian rivals in 2007.
The twin blockades have left the Gaza Strip's industry and construction sectors gasping for resources, pushing unemployment to new lows and deepening poverty.
Egypt declines to renew Hamas leader's residency
Egypt's army-backed authorities have refused to renew the residency visa of senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouq, a source close to Abu Marzouq said Tuesday amid mounting tension between Cairo and the Gaza-based resistance group.
"We tried to renew Abu Marzouq's residency visa in Cairo, but the authorities refused," the source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Anadolu Agency.
He asserted that Abu Marzouq's residency visa was due to expire next month.
"Similar measures were taken against members of Abu Marzouq's entourage," said the source.
Egyptian officials were not immediately available for comment.
Abu Marzouq, deputy head of Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, moved to Cairo from Damascus after the onset of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
He lives in a four-level villa on the outskirts of Cairo, not far from where ousted president Mohamed Morsi used to live before his election.
Hamas obtained a license to build the villa from Egypt's Supreme Military Council, which had ruled the country following the downfall of president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, according to the source.
Last week, sources revealed that Egyptian authorities had refused to renew residency visas for members of Abu Marzouq's entourage.
Last month, Egypt denied Abu Marzouq's son, who had been flying from Doha, entry into the country and deported him on the same plane.
An Egyptian court recently banned the activities of Hamas in Egypt and ordered its offices closed.
Hamas is an ideological offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which Morsi hails.
Last December, Egypt's army-backed interim authorities listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a "terrorist group."