Hamas says to Egypt: Open Rafah crossing, We’ll close tunnels.

Report: U.S. may pass Cairo intel assistance against terrorists in Sinai. • Salah al-Bardawil, a Hamas official, says his org will stop smuggling, only if Egypt permanently opens the Rafah border crossing to Gazans

By Daniel Siryoti, Israel Hayom Staff and News Agencies


Hamas is prepared to stop tunnel smuggling activity between Sinai and the Gaza Strip if the Egyptians order the reopening of the Rafah border crossing, which has been closed since the Sinai terror attack last week, Hamas senior official Salah al-Bardawil said on Sunday.

Egyptian security forces arrest suspected militants in Sinai – Photo: Reuters

Egypt completely closed the border crossing to the passage of people and goods after terrorists, some of whom were suspected of coming from the Gaza Strip, attacked an army outpost in Sinai on August 5, killing 16 Egyptian soldiers.

During a press conference on Sunday, Bardawil said his movement would agree to close all the tunnels if Cairo permanently opens the Rafah border crossing. He stressed that the tunnels provided emergency relief to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip under the Israeli blockade, the Hamas-affiliated Alresalah news agency reported. “We are sure that the wise Egyptian leadership would not leave the Palestinian people under siege,” Bardawil was quoted as saying by Alresalah.

He also criticized the Palestinian Authority’s call for the closure of the tunnels “as an opportunistic policy” that contradicts Palestinian “national responsibility.”

Earlier Sunday, Tayeb Abdelrahim, chief of staff to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, expressed support for closing the tunnels, telling AFP in a statement, “The Palestinian Authority affirms its full solidarity with Egypt and backs all the measures implemented by the Egyptian leadership and the security forces, including special measures to close the smuggling tunnels that are pathways of vandalism.”

He added, “The tunnels have recently become a threat to Egypt’s security and to Palestinian unity and they only serve a small category of stakeholders and private interests,” said Abdelrahim, describing those who run them as “inconsiderate of Egypt and Palestine’s higher interests.”

The tunnels trade, which analysts say amount to about half a billion dollars a year, has played a crucial role in Gaza’s economy since Israel first imposed the blockade in 2006.

But Abdelrahim denied the tunnels’ significance for Gaza’s economy, saying, “The Palestinian Authority spends more than half of its budget on the Gaza Strip and tunnels have nothing to do with reviving the economy there.”

Meanwhile, as the Egyptian military continues its “Eagle 3” operation to eradicate terrorism in Sinai, Bardawil, the senior Hamas official, denied that his organization’s military wing was involved in the Sinai attack.

“Until now, neither the Palestinian nor the Egyptian security services have proof that any party in Gaza supported or executed the attack,” Bardawil was quoted by AFP as saying.

“Egypt hasn’t supplied the Gaza government with any accusation or given any information about the involvement of Palestinians,” he was quoted as telling reporters in Gaza City.

If it is proven that a Palestinian was involved, then measures will be taken,” he said, vowing that if there was any evidence against Palestinians from Gaza, “we will be the first to prosecute the criminals.”

Egyptian media on Sunday reported that Cairo, with Israeli coordination, sent hundreds of soldiers and dozens of tanks and armored vehicles equipped with machine guns into Sinai as part of the operation. Security officials said seven suspected terrorists were killed by Egyptian security forces during raids on hideouts in two villages in northern Sinai.

Sunday’s deaths were the first reported casualties among suspected terrorists since Egypt launched the major offensive against the groups and sent reinforcements to the area following the attack last Sunday.

Security officials said the raids by troops and police backed by armored vehicles targeted the villages of al-Ghora and al-Mahdiyah, near El-Arish. They seized landmines, an anti-aircraft missile, heavy machine-guns and grenades. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

They said the seven suspected terrorists were killed when the forces shelled a house in which they took cover after an exchange of fire. The shelling set the house on fire along with a car and a motorbike parked outside.

In a separate incident, three policemen were killed and four others injured when their car turned over while chasing a group of criminals in central Sinai, Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency, MENA, reported.

It also said that gunmen fired at a security checkpoint before escaping in northern Sinai on Saturday. No casualties were reported.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on Sunday that Washington and Cairo were negotiating a package of military and intelligence assistance to address the deteriorating security situation in Sinai.

According to the report, the Pentagon is discussing several options for sharing intelligence with the Egyptian military and police in Sinai. The intelligence includes intercepts of cellphone conversations between terrorists suspected of planning the attacks and overhead imagery captured by aircraft or satellite, U.S. administration officials told The New York Times.

“We continue to discuss ways of increasing and improving the Egyptians’ situational awareness in the Sinai,” a Pentagon official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Times.

View original Israel Hayom publication at: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=5395