Analysis: Hamas hopes of an open border swept away in Egypt attack
THE weekend’s deadly attack on the Egypt-Israel border by Islamic militants with purported ties to Gaza spells trouble for the territory’s Hamas rulers.
Hamas had lobbied Egypt’s new president, a fellow member of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, to end Gaza’s five-year border blockade by throwing open a shared border crossing that is Gaza’s only gate to the world.
Instead, one of the first steps Mohammed Morsi took after Sunday’s attack was to slam the crossing shut indefinitely.
Egypt’s military said the attackers had the help of Palestinian militants, and that “elements from the Gaza Strip” aided them by shelling the Egyptian-Israeli border crossing with mortars as the attack was taking place.
An Egyptian government official claimed that at least some of the attackers came from Gaza, via smuggling tunnels under the border.
Hundreds of tunnels run under the nine-mile Gaza-Egypt border, dug over the years to evade border restrictions and move contraband, including weapons and militants.
Hamas announced it had closed the tunnels temporarily following the attack that left 16 Egyptian border troops dead. Egypt indicated it would crack down from its side after mostly ignoring the underground passages for years. Mr Morsi pledged that Egypt’s military will now go after the militants in the Sinai, a move that could reinforce Gaza’s isolation.
After Mr Morsi’s election victory earlier this summer, Hamas had been hopeful that the Gaza border blockade – imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas overran the territory in 2007 – was coming to an end.
In a meeting with Hamas officials from Gaza last month, Mr Morsi appeared sympathetic to their demands to lift restrictions on travel out of Gaza, though he was non-committal about opening the border to trade as well. In return, Mr Morsi asked Hamas to crack down on militants moving in and out of Gaza through the tunnels, according to an official close to the talks.
Mr Morsi told Hamas his leadership would be tested by how he deals with Islamic militants in Sinai and asked Hamas to help make his first term a success, the official said.
But the bloody attack on the border threw the implied agreements into disarray. It also left Hamas in damage-control mode, with few options beyond pleading for a fair inquiry.
The Hamas government condemned the attack as an “awful crime”and promised to help Egypt find the culprits, but denied Gaza militants were involved.
In a first sign of tension between Mr Morsi’s government and Hamas, the movement’s deputy leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said online that closing the Rafah crossing amounted to collective punishment.
Since taking office, Mr Morsi has been careful to avoid the impression that he puts the interests of fellow Muslim Brothers, including Hamas, above those of Egypt. After Sunday’s attack, he is under even greater pressure to clamp down on Islamic militants seen as a threat to his country’s national interests.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 5 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North east