A new crisis erupted in Hamas-Egyptian relations when rolls of cloth, allegedly intended for the manufacture of fake Egyptian army uniforms, were confiscated by Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai as they were about to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip.
The Egyptian army on Sunday discovered a smuggling tunnel in the Sarsouriyah area, on the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip, army spokesman Ahmad Mohammed Ali reported. Inside the tunnel, the soldiers found sports clothes and five rolls of cloth, two of them featuring camouflage khaki fabric used for Egyptian army uniform and three of white fabric used by the interior ministry for its uniforms.
“The Egyptian army warns all Egyptian civilians to take precautions and increase their security awareness in the coming period for the possibility of [individuals] posing as soldiers,” wrote Ali on the official army spokesman’s Facebook page. “May God protect Egypt, its people and its armed forces from all evil.”
Sinai terrorists have used Egyptian uniforms to mask their identity in the past. In August 2011, 12 terrorists — some of whom had donned Egyptian army fatigues — opened fire at an Israeli bus and motorists on a highway north of Eilat, killing six Israeli civilians and two soldiers. Five Egyptian soldiers and policemen were also killed in the exchange of fire between the terrorists and the IDF.
Hamas movement spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri denied the fabric was intended for the Gaza Strip.
“The load of fabric similar to the Egyptian army uniform was not confiscated inside Gaza but in northern Sinai,” Abu-Zuhri told Hamas’s A-Rai news agency on Monday.
Meanwhile, Hamas government spokesman Taher Al-Nunu offered a different explanation to Egypt’s Mihwar TV channel. He said that such fabric may have been intended for children’s suits, or for the uniforms of Al-Qassam fighters on the border with Israel. Nunu stressed that Hamas was investigating the matter, but assured the channel that the fabric was not intended to be used in an attack against Egyptian soldiers.
“We will chop off the hand of anyone who raises it against an Egyptian civilian or soldier,” Nunu said.
Nevertheless, Egyptian independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm responded with disbelief to Nunu’s “children’s clothes” explanation, echoed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party official Sa’ad Amara.
“Political leaders said that these excuses are unreasonable,” wrote the daily on Tuesday.
Speaking to Dubai-based news station Al-Arabiyah Tuesday, retired Major General Ahmad Abdul Halim took apart Nunu’s second hypothesis as well, whereby the uniforms were meant to be used in an attack from Gaza against Israel.
“This operation was no surprise,” Abdul Halim said, claiming that intelligence information indicated that attacks against Egypt were forthcoming following the recent crackdown on smuggling tunnels, and the economic harm caused to tunnel owners from Gaza.
The station reported that Egypt’s third army, stationed in Suez, recently decided to change all of its uniforms for fear of soldiers being impersonated.
Last week seven Palestinians were arrested at Cairo airport on suspicion of subversive acts against Egypt. Also last week, a state-owned Egyptian weekly magazine accused Hamas of carrying out one of the bloodiest attacks against the Egyptian army in years — the killing 16 of soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula in August 2012. Hamas’s military wing accused Egypt’s state media of spreading “flagrant lies.”