Dashing Hamas hopes of a détente with the Egyptian regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt closed its borders to a high-ranking Hamas delegation to talks with Israel on Sunday, accusing Palestinians of involvement in a deadly terror attack in Sinai Friday. The Hamas delegation had been set to resume indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israel over a long-term Gaza ceasefire on Monday, but those talks were canceled.
Sissi said on Saturday that “foreign hands” were behind a suicide car bombing that killed over 30 soldiers at a checkpoint near the northern Sinai town of el-Arish, declaring a three-month state of emergency in the peninsula. But Egypt’s deputy interior minister, Samih Bashadi, was more specific on Sunday, accusing “Palestinian operatives” of involvement in the attack.
Security in the Sinai can only be achieved through the establishment of a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and Sinai, Bashadi told Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. He said Egypt would target terror bases in northern Sinai using Apache attack helicopters.
Egyptian civil society, as reflected in mainstream media, seemed ready on Sunday for harsher measures against residents of northern Sinai.
Dalia Ziada, executive director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Developmental Studies, a Cairo-based research center, told Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm that Sinai should be declared “an anti-terror zone.”
“The military should intervene immediately by removing peaceful civilians from Sinai, and pursue the terrorists until they’re eradicated,” Ziada said. “On the legal level, the trials of terrorists must be concluded quickly, especially given that all the accused are in fact terrorists.”
Before Friday’s attack, Hamas was hoping to turn over a new leaf with the Egyptian regime. The movement’s deputy political director, Moussa Abu Marzouk, told Egyptian daily A-Shorouk last week that security coordination between Hamas and Egypt has improved following the near-complete elimination of cross-border smuggling tunnels. Abu Marzouk noted that Hamas has completely severed its ties with Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and has even handed over smugglers to the Egyptian authorities.
But Egypt’s decision, following the attack, to close the Rafah border crossing — Gaza’s only gateway to the Arab world — indicated that Hamas’s attempts at placating Egypt were for naught.
Egypt informed Hamas that a high-ranking delegation would not be permitted to cross through Rafah to attend ceasefire talks with Israeli officials scheduled to resume Monday, Hamas official Khalil Haya told his movement’s daily Al-Resalah.
Salah Bardawil, a Hamas official in Gaza, was conciliatory toward Egypt on Sunday, writing on Facebook that “the heart of every Arab, Palestinian and Muslim bleeds over the death of the Egyptian soldiers.” But Abu Marzouk did not mince words in faulting the Sissi regime for unjustly accusing Hamas for the attack.
“Every time a disaster strikes Egypt in the era of the coup instigators, they point their fingers at Gaza,” the Hamas leader wrote on his Facebook page late Saturday night. “It’s as though Gaza is a lightning rod for their ongoing failure. Stop blaming Gaza, O failed ones!”