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Palestinian Gunmen Block Access to Border Crossing Into Egypt

Palestinian gunmen have blocked access to the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, and stormed at least four government buildings nearby. The violence followed the arrest of a Palestinian militant in connection with the kidnapping of three British citizens last week.

In a further sign of the deteriorating security situation in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian gunmen reportedly affiliated with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade blocked a road leading to the Rafah border crossing, which links Gaza with Egypt.

Members of the group also placed explosive devices near the entrance to the crossing and stormed several Palestinian government buildings in the area, including an elections office, forcing workers to flee.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is a violent militia affiliated with the ruling Fatah Party and is a State Department designated terrorist organization. Members of the group say their attacks are in response to the arrest of an Al-Aqsa leader linked to the kidnapping of British aid worker Kate Burton and her parents last week. The three were freed unharmed after being held for several days.

The Rafah crossing is under the supervision of European Union observers. A spokesman for the observers says their functions were not disturbed. Mohammed Dawwas, an independent Palestinian journalist working in Gaza, says while the gunmen were able to block the road, the crossing terminal is inside a heavily guarded compound.

"Planting bombs and all these things cannot really be inside, it is going to be maybe outside the front door on the north side or east side," he said. "But not really entering inside the crossing and sending bombs. I do not know. So the only way for them to stop people from traveling is to stop people coming in from Rafah area, Gaza Strip, that is the road only."

The Gaza Strip has seen growing instability since Israel completed its withdrawal in October.

Violence is especially acute in the southern part of the Gaza Strip where Palestinian security officials have less control than elsewhere in the region. Palestinian security officials say because of the instability they will have trouble providing security for legislative elections, which are scheduled to take place on January 25.