Hamas closes offices of Gaza's only mobile phone company

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Hamas on Tuesday closed the offices of Gaza's only mobile telephone company after accusing it of tax-dodging, a move experts said could halt all cellular services in the Palestinian territory.

Police in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls, shut the offices of Palestinian telecoms provider Jawwal in Gaza City and left notices proclaiming it was "on the orders of the (Hamas) public prosecutor", an AFP correspondent said.

The company confirmed the closure, which was ordered last week by the public prosecutor, Ismail Jabr, for alleged "tax evasion".

Jawwal's parent company Palestinian Telecommunication Group (PalTel) closed all its branches in the besieged coastal enclave "to protest against the shutting of the Gaza headquarters", an official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

West Bank-based Jawwal director Ammar al-Akar said in a statement that the closure was "a blow to the interests of citizens, and only adds to the suffering of Gazans," adding that his company "adheres to the law".

Jawwal last week insisted it was not "avoiding any (payment) commitments".

Omar Shaaban, an economist who heads the Gaza-based think-tank Palthink, said the closure could mean a halt to all mobile phone services in the Strip.

"There is no alternative in Gaza to the services provided by this company," he said of Jawwal, one of the principle telecoms providers in the Palestinian territories.

Shaaban said it was likely Jawwal was paying taxes to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and not the Hamas authorities in Gaza.

The PA slammed the closure as "aggravating division" and "a flagrant violation of Palestinian law".

A years-long split between Hamas and the PA, which is dominated by rival political party Fatah, has caused previous financial crises in the war-wracked territory.

Last year, Hamas closed banks for several days after a dispute with the PA over wages.

Under an April 2014 unity agreement, Hamas and Fatah pledged to put their differences behind them, transferring adminstration of Gaza to the PA, including collection of taxes and the running of ministries.

But the PA refused to pay the salaries of tens of thousands of officials appointed by Hamas since it took over Gaza in 2007, causing the unity deal to fail and leaving Hamas de facto in charge of Gaza.

A war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel last year dealt further setbacks to prospects of Palestinian reconciliation.

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