GAZA, (Reuters) – Rival Palestinian forces faced off at the Gaza border on Friday after customs police caught a Hamas official trying to enter from Egypt with 639,000 euros ($804,000) hidden in his clothing and a bag, officials said.
Around 100 Hamas gunmen raced to the Rafah border crossing, which is guarded by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential guard, raising fears of fresh fighting.
Witnesses said presidential guard reinforcements were also sent to the area.
Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, initially refused to leave the border terminal without the money, which was confiscated by Palestinian customs agents. But witnesses said he later left and that the gunmen withdrew.
Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri said Abu Zuhri was carrying “donations from Arab nations to the Palestinian government and it was meant to pay for prisoners in Israeli jails.”
Abu Zuhri, who is the official spokesman of the Hamas movement rather than the Hamas-led government, told Reuters he left after an agreement was reached for the money to “soon be released”.
Palestinian police fought gunbattles in Gaza City earlier on Friday with a new Hamas-led security force set up by the Islamist government in defiance of Abbas.
At least four people were wounded in the first fighting since Hamas deployed the force on Wednesday.
Facing a U.S.-led funding and banking blockade, the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority is broke and has been unable to pay salaries to 165,000 employees.
Samir Abu Nahla, the Palestinian director of the Rafah crossing, said Abu Zuhri “was wrapping the money around his belly and that was an illegal act”.
“According to the law, we have confiscated the money and an investigation should be held to determine whether it came from a legitimate source,” Abu Nahla told Reuters, adding that agents have seized Abu Zuhri’s passport as well.
Abu Zuhri said some of the money was in a bag and the rest was in his pockets.
A spokesman for the contingent of European monitors at Rafah said this was the first time that such a large amount of money had been confiscated at the crossing.