An international human rights group on Thursday urged the Egyptian government to admit it kidnapped four senior Hamas operatives who went missing from a Gaza-Egypt border crossing nearly two years ago.
In a letter to Egyptian Interior Minister Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar, Human Rights Watch watched urged Cairo to “immediately disclose” whether it was holding Abd el-Da’im el-Basset, Said Abdallah Abu Jabin, Yasser Fathi Zanon and Hussein Hamis el-Dabda.
HRW said that various media reports, including a photo of the men published by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera outlet last year, indicated the four were being held in a Cairo-area detention center.
“If true, their prolonged incommunicado detention, with Egyptian authorities denying knowledge of the detention or refusing to reveal their whereabouts, would constitute enforced disappearances,” the letter said.
Basset, Jabin, Zanon and Dabda were pulled from a bus in August 2015 by unidentified gunmen while crossing from Gaza to Egypt during a humanitarian window in the Egyptian blockade of the coastal strip. The four have not been seen since.
“Twenty months without contact with the missing men inflicts incalculable anguish and suffering on their families and friends,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Egyptian authorities should come clean and reveal whether these four disappeared Palestinian men from Gaza are in their custody.”
The incident at the Rafah Border Crossing immediately made headlines, but the Egyptians insisted that the Sinai affiliate of the Islamic State jihadist group was responsible for the kidnappings.
Hamas didn’t buy it, saying the four were abducted by the Egyptian intelligence service after Cairo learned they were traveling to Iran to undergo intensive military training.
In recent years, Egypt has been monitoring the the activities of the Hamas military wing in Gaza, and especially in the area bordering the Sinai.
Egyptian intelligence believes Hamas fighters have been working together with Islamic State-linked activists in the peninsula responsible for terror attacks in Egypt and which the Egyptian military has sought to suppress for the past several years.
Regional media has long reported that Hamas’s naval commandos undergo intensive training in Iran, which also arms the terrorist group with advanced equipment and technology.
For most of the past decade, Egypt has been a quiet partner with Israel in the blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza, stifling the economy and largely blocking its 2 million people from moving in and out of the territory.
Israel imposes the blockade to prevent Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007 and avowedly seeks to destroy the Jewish state, from importing weapons.
In recent months, Cairo has increased the number of people allowed to exit through the Rafah Border Crossing, Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world. It also has begun to allow Gaza to import commercial goods through Rafah for the first time since 2013, and sent public signals that it is interested in improving relations.