The discrepancy between Israel’s readiness for Sunday’s terrorist attack on the Egypt-Gaza-Israel border and Egypt’s fatal surprise prompted calls in Egypt Monday for a greater Egyptian troop presence in the Sinai, and a claim by one former member of parliament that Israel had colluded in the attack.
The assault, in which gunmen believed to have come from Gaza killed 16 Egyptian border policemen and then smashed through the Kerem Shalom border in stolen Egyptian army vehicles, constituted the first major challenge for the newly inaugurated Egyptian government of Hisham Kandil.
Monday morning found Egyptians both shocked and embarrassed — shocked at the audacity of the attackers, who managed to capture two armored vehicles from the Egyptian army base they bloodily stormed; and embarrassed by Israel’s ability to swiftly thwart the attack, killing a reported eight of the terrorists as they sought to enter Israeli territory.
While acknowledging that jihadists carried out the attack, former Egyptian MP Mustafa Bakri told the Egyptian daily Al-Youm A-Sabi’ that it was ‘a Zionist plot to bring Israel back to Sinai’
Egyptian politicians, both in government and opposition, vowed Monday to “avenge the blood” of the slain Egyptian soldiers — “the best soldiers of our land,” as the liberal Wafd party dubbed them. President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party called the attack a “criminal terrorist offensive.”
Mohammed Mahsoub, the new minister of state for parliamentary affairs and member of the liberal Wasat party, called on his Twitter account for Egypt to “reexamine” the clauses in the Camp David peace accords with Israel which limit the free movement of Egyptian forces in Sinai, Al-Ahram daily reported. He said that Egypt must “regain its prestige over every inch of its land” and suggested treating the north Sinai city of Al-Arish as Egypt’s “second capital.”
Al-Ahram newspaper reported that some Egyptian social media commentators are furious that Egypt’s security chiefs dismissed Israel’s terror warning, issued last Thursday, as unfounded and as an attempt to sabotage tourism to the area.
While acknowledging that jihadists carried out the attack, former Egyptian MP Mustafa Bakri told the Egyptian daily Al-Youm A-Sabi’ that it was “a Zionist plot to bring Israel back to Sinai and expel Palestinians to Egyptian lands in Sinai.”
On his Twitter account, Bakri speculated that Israel would seize the opportunity and reoccupy Sinai. He cited Israel’s warning to its citizens to leave the Sinai Peninsula as proof that it was aware of the terrorists’ plan.
In a statement issued late Sunday night, the Egyptian Socialist Party claimed that the security void in Sinai would “give Israel an excuse to amass forces on the Egyptian border and “portray Islamist groups — including the Muslim Brotherhood — as terrorists, in preparation for a conspiratorial move against Egypt.”
As preliminary security measures, on Monday Egypt closed the Rafah border crossing with Gaza “indefinitely” and began deporting Palestinian passengers who arrived at Cairo airport aboard the same airplanes they came in.
The Interior Ministry reportedly raised alert levels at the airport, deployed additional security forces there, and erected roadblocks. The Egyptian Independent newspaper called it a “state of extreme emergency.”
Gaza disclaims responsibility and bemoans ‘collective punishment’
Just one day before the attack, Gaza residents had complained to Arab media about a popular Egyptian Ramadan soap opera, Naji Attallah’s Squad, which portrayed them as criminal smugglers of arms and people into Sinai. By Monday, Hamas officials were intensely engaged in damage control.
Hamas rushed to issue a condemnation of the attack just hours after it occurred, calling it a “heinous crime.” Hamas’s Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh denied his movement’s involvement in the attack. On the ground, Hamas immediately sealed the smuggling tunnels leading into Sinai, ostensibly to prevent armed men from infiltrating into the Gaza Strip.
Hamas said it would have prevented any Palestinians taking part in the attack had it known of their intentions in advance, Israel Radio reported.
The organization claimed to be working with Egyptian intelligence to investigate the incident. Hamas has called a meeting of representatives from Palestinian groups in Gaza to review the implications of the incident, the radio report said.
Hamas rushed to issue a condemnation of the attack just hours after it occurred, calling it a ‘heinous crime’
Hamas official in exile Moussa Abu-Marzouq repeated the claim of Israeli collusion on his personal Facebook page, but proceeded to accuse the Egyptian government of “collective punishment” for shutting the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, a move Hamas has tried to reverse in past weeks.
“Shutting the Rafah crossing is a form of collective punishment which should not take place,” Abu-Marzouq said in a statement Monday. “I do not think this decision is in the right direction.”