3 Gazans said briefly kidnapped by gunmen from Sinai

Hamas-run interior ministry confirms laborers went missing on Egyptian border, but were returned ‘safely’ hours later

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: An Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula holds Egyptian Coptic Christians hostage. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Illustrative: An Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula holds Egyptian Coptic Christians hostage. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Three Gazan laborers went missing Monday morning while working in a tunnel on the Egyptian border, apparently kidnapped by Islamic State gunmen, but hours later were returned home safely, Gaza’s Hamas-run interior ministry and witnesses said.

Iyad al-Bazm, the spokesperson for the ministry, confirmed “the disappearance” of three Palestinian workers inside a tunnel on the Palestinian-Egyptian border, adding that the disappearance was being investigated.

One witness told AFP that a group of masked gunmen snatched the three and took them across the border into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

The account of the witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was not confirmed by authorities.

However, a few hours after going missing, Bazm released another statement saying the workers had been located on the Egyptian-Palestinian border, “and were returned safely to Gaza.”

Hamas security forces next to an Egyptian watch tower on the border between Egypt and Gaza, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, September 21, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Safa News Agency reported the laborers had been kidnapped from a tunnel near the Salah-a-Din gate of the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. The motive for the kidnapping was not immediately clear

Gazans use such tunnels to smuggle goods, weapons, and fighters into and out of the Palestinian enclave that has been under Israeli and Egyptian blockade for a decade, following Hamas’s violent 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip and its use of the area as a launchpad for attacks on Israel.

In recent years, jihadists in the northern Sinai have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and policemen in a fierce ongoing war.

Hamas has also previously been targeted by Sinai-based Jihadists.

In August, a suicide bomber killed a Hamas guard along Gaza’s border with Egypt in what was described as a rare Islamist attack against the terror group.

Egyptian security forces stand guard at the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip on August 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

In 2015, gunmen seized four Hamas members from a bus bound for Cairo from the Gaza Strip in the Sinai near the border.

Earlier in October, scores of members of the terrorist group carried out multiple attacks on six Egyptian checkpoints near the bordertown of Shiekh Zuwaid, killing at least six soldiers and injuring dozens more.

Egypt has pressured Hamas to clamp down on allowing IS militants to enter Gaza, and to take stiffer control of its border.

Hamas has said it is working on securing its border with Egypt.

On Saturday, at least Egyptian 54 policemen, including 20 officers and 34 conscripts, were killed when a raid on jihadist hideouts outside of Cairo escalated into an all-out firefight, authorities said.

AFP contributed to this report. 

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