Frustrated Hamas seeks light at end of Egyptian tunnel
GAZA (Reuters) - The Islamist group Hamas, stunned by Egypt's closure of its border with Gaza, said on Monday the new Islamist leadership in Cairo was imposing the same pain on the Palestinian enclave as ousted former president, Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt pulled the shutters down on the Rafah passenger terminal a week ago after unidentified militants shot dead 16 Egyptian police near the Gaza border before launching an attack on neighbouring Israel that was swiftly smothered.
Hamas denied speculation that some of the assailants had crossed from Gaza and has accused Egypt, led since June by an Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, of imposing collective punishment on the impoverished Palestinians.
"We suffered from the unjust regime of Mubarak that participated in the (Israeli) blockade of Gaza. Why should we suffer now in the era of Egypt's revolution and democracy?" said Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad.
"The Egyptian leadership is requested to order the reopening of the Rafah crossing to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians wanting to travel, students, patients, residents in third countries and pilgrims," he added in a statement.
Israel has for years refused exit visas for all but a tiny minority in Gaza, making Rafah the sole window on the world for almost all of the enclave's 1.7 million Palestinians, with some 800 people a day using the terminal to reach Egypt.
Since the closure, thousands have been stranded, although Cairo did order a brief opening on Friday to allow Palestinians trapped in Egypt to return home.
"If Palestine was not a top priority for you, you should change direction," Hammad said in an unusually sharp rebuke.
Hamas believed Mursi would usher in a new period of harmony between Gaza and Cairo, but that has yet to materialise because of strategic considerations involving Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel and related military aid from the United States.
Immediately after the Sinai massacre, Hamas ordered the closure of around 1,000 smuggling tunnels along its border with Egypt to prevent possible infiltration by the attackers.
Several tunnels have remained operational bringing food, fuel and construction materials into Gaza, but Hamas has said it would be willing to see all the underground passages closed if Egypt agreed to defy Israel and let goods flow through Rafah.
Israel maintains a strict control of all imports into Gaza to prevent arms from reaching Hamas, which refuses to recognise the Jewish state's right to exist. Mubarak, deeply suspicious of the Islamists, was happy to support the Gaza blockade.
In a call underscoring deep fissures within Palestinian society, Hamas's political foes have urged Egypt to destroy all the tunnels and starve the Islamist group of the multi-million dollar duties it imposes on smuggled produce.
"These tunnels, which solidified the division of Palestine in Gaza, have for some time been a threat to Egypt's national security and the unity of the Palestinian people," said Tayeb Abdel-Rahim, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas governs only in the nearby West Bank after Hamas defeated his forces in Gaza in a brief civil war in 2007.
"Illegal smuggling comes at the expense of the legitimate interests of our nation and its citizens," he added. His comments were denounced by Hamas, which called the tunnels a "lifeline" for Gaza's people. (Editing by Crispian Balmer and Mark Heinrich)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this
- Xi sees factory China and back office India as global engine
- Google launches $105 Android One; eyes low-price smartphone boom
- Fed could hint on rate-hike plans as it prepares for policy turn
- Pakistani Islamists use floods to turn opinion against India
- China c.bank injects $81 billion into major banks to support economy - reports
President Barack Obama on Tuesday called West Africa's deadly Ebola outbreak a looming threat to global security and announced a major expansion of the U.S. role in trying to halt its spread, including deployment of 3,000 troops to the region. Full Article
Islamic State campaign tests Obama's commitment to Mideast allies Full Article
Polls show Scottish opponents of independence with slight lead ahead of vote. Full Article