Egypt Warns Hamas Over Sinai Actions
‘If Hamas or other parties try to violate Egyptian national security, our response will be severe,’ Egypt’s FM warns. Meanwhile, security forces hunt for suspects in last month’s killing of 15 policemen, raid houses, backed by armored vehicles
Egypt has warned of a military response if Hamas or other Palestinian groups try to violate Egyptian security, increasing tension over what Cairo says is support from Gaza for Islamist militants operating in the Sinai Peninsula.
Egypt’s army says militants from Hamas-run Gaza have staged joint attacks with hardline Islamists in North Sinai, where the government has ramped up security operations after a surge of violence set off by President Mohamed Morsi’s downfall in July.
Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told the London-based newspaper al-Hayat there was “tension” in Cairo’s relationship with Hamas, an ideological offshoot of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. He suggested Hamas was not helping enough to secure the border.
The Sinai militants expanded into a security vacuum that emerged after president Hosni Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising in 2011.
“If Hamas proves through actions and not words – and unfortunately there are many negative indicators – its good intentions, then it will find an Egyptian party that … protects the Palestinian side,” Fahmy said.
“If we feel that there are parties in Hamas or other parties trying to violate Egyptian national security, our response will be severe,” said Fahmy, foreign minister in the army-installed cabinet that came to office after Morsi was deposed by the army.
Asked whether any response would include a closure of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, Fahmy said: “Options are military-security, and not options that result in suffering for the Palestinian citizen.”
The Rafah crossing is the only way in and out of Gaza not controlled by Israel, with which Egypt made peace in 1979. Fahmy did not elaborate on what kind of military action Cairo might take.
Hamas has denied Egypt’s accusations. A spokesman for the Hamas government said Fahmy’s comments “contradicted Egypt’s history and role in protecting the Palestinian nation”.
Fahmy said: “There are very many flaws in the Hamas relationship with the former (Morsi) regime, and the relationship of Hamas, or other Palestinian Islamist parties, with terror activity in Sinai.”
Mursi is being investigated on accusations of conspiring with Hamas when he escaped from prison during the uprising against Mubarak.
Egypt’s army spokesman said at a Sept. 15 briefing the military was clearing buildings deemed a security threat at a distance of up to one km (0.6 miles) from the Gaza border.
The spokesman declined to accuse Hamas directly of attacks, although he said hand grenades stamped with the name of the Palestinian group’s armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, had been found in the security sweep under way in Sinai.
Earlier Tuesday it was reported that Egyptian security forces raided a village near the Giza Pyramids on Tuesday hunting for suspects in the brutal killing of 15 policemen last month, the latest move by authorities to assert state control over Islamist strongholds that have resisted state authority since the country’s July 3 coup.
The early morning security sweep of Nahya just west of Cairo comes one day after a court issued a ruling banning the Muslim Brotherhood group, from which ousted President Mohamed Morsi hails, and ordering confiscation of its assets.
Security forces backed by armored vehicles and accompanied by masked commandos conducted house-to-house raids in Nahya searching for suspects alleged to have killed the 15 police officers on August 14 in the adjacent town of Kerdasa and mutilated their bodies. That attack came in retaliation for a violent assault by security forces on pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo that left hundreds dead and sparked days of unrest.
Police stayed out of Kerdasa for over a month after the killings, and residents say Islamists dominated the town. But the military and police went back in last week, sparking a gunbattle in which a senior police officer was shot dead. Scores of suspects were rounded up. The scenes were reminiscent of the Egyptian government’s battle with an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s, which lasted years and left thousands dead.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told the London-based Al-Hayat daily that Egyptian relations with the US were “turbulent” and the Egyptian public has “unprecedented negative views” toward the United States.
Speaking from New York where he is attending the UN General Assembly, Fahmy said that voices within Egypt are calling for shifting strategic alliances from United States to countries like Russia, but described such calls as “unacceptable.”
The US administration declined to label military’s overthrow of Morsi on July 3 as a coup and argued it was in the US national security interest to keep American support flowing.
However, the issue divided both parties in Congress. Some say US aid to Egypt should be cut off. Others contend the $1.5 billion of mostly military aid is critical for US and Israeli security.