Egypt to Hamas: Smuggling tunnels will be shut entirely

Amid campaign to create Gaza-Sinai buffer zone, Cairo tells Islamist group that it will be held responsible for border trouble

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Egyptian army soldiers stand guard on the border with Egypt in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, July 2013. (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)
Egyptian army soldiers stand guard on the border with Egypt in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, July 2013. (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)

Egyptian security officials told Hamas that Cairo will not tolerate any use of tunnels to smuggle goods and weapons between the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported Friday.

Egypt also warned Hamas that it will hold the Islamist group responsible for any incidents on the Gaza-Egypt border.

The Sinai has experienced growing unrest since the ouster of president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.

Egypt launched a new campaign with the aim of creating a “buffer zone” between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai, Ma’an news agency reported earlier this month, citing an unnamed Egyptian security official to the effect that his country’s military had destroyed 10 tunnels and seven homes in Rafah, along the border.

The official said that the houses were used to conceal the tunnels and that they were blown up after the tunnels were destroyed. The activities were part of a larger move to establish a 300–500-meter-wide buffer zone in Rafah, he was quoted as saying.

In January, The Times of Israel learned that Israel has been quietly cooperating with the Egyptian government against Hamas in Gaza, allowing Cairo to dispatch military forces beyond the provisions of the Camp David peace accords.

Egypt is primarily concerned with eradicating local jihadist cells in the el-Arish area, but believes that Hamas, across the border, has provided Egyptian radicals with logistical aid and training.

It has therefore been engaged in systematically destroying smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza, which it considers a significant conduit of illegal arms.

The tunnels have also been an invaluable source of revenue for Hamas, which has taxed all manner of goods that arrived through them into the blockaded Strip.

Four Egyptian security officials told Reuters in January that Hamas was Egypt’s next target after quashing the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has, in fact, begun supporting subversive activities against the Hamas regime, the news agency reported.

In response, a Hamas spokesman said Egypt was “delusional” if it believed it could crush his organization in Gaza.

The Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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