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Gaza pays the price for Sinai militancy Open in fullscreen

Diaa Khalil

Gaza pays the price for Sinai militancy

Egypt's Gaza-Sinai border has become a high-security zone [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 October, 2014

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Following a spate of attacks on Egyptian troops, Cairo has beefed up security in the border zones of the Sinai.
A recent attack on an Egyptian military checkpoint in the Sinai has brought uncertainty to the people on the other side of the border, as Gazans fear the consequences of Egypt's renewed jihadi activity.

Although there have been no official statements made by Cairo linking the instability in the Sinai to Hamas, Egyptian media has been abuzz with speculation about the Palestinian Islamist group's role in the deaths of 33 Egyptian soldiers, along with other attacks on the peninsular.

As with any new accusation made against Hamas, the Gaza authority and people of the strip have found themselves on the defensive, fearing further developments could result in penalties on a densely populated area already economically shattered from years of blockade and brutal military campaigns.

Some Egyptian newspapers claimed that Palestinian groups had taken part in the northern Sinai attack, while television channels aired interviews with security and military analysts who made accusations about Gaza's culpability.

Such fabrication and speculation broadcast could have a significantly negative effect on the image of Palestinians in the Arab world's most populous country.

Tensions remain between Egypt and Hamas regarding the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi - the Islamist group in Gaza having close connections with the former president's Muslim Brotherhood. Relations between Gaza and Cairo have remained strained since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took office.

Hamas responds

In response, Hamas has had to clearly state that no parties in the Gaza Strip played a role in the Sinai deaths - Gaza is innocent of Egyptian bloodshed, its only fight is the occupation, said officials.

In a speech aired on Egyptian state TV at the funeral of the soldiers, Sisi announced new security measures along the Gaza border.

Sisi did not make any specific link between the deaths and Gaza, but that did not stop the Egyptian media from making the connection.

The Rafah crossing, Gaza's only gateway to the outside world, was the first to be affected. The entry point on the Egyptian side has been shut since last Saturday, and will remain closed until further notice.

Salah al-Bardawil, a leading figure in Hamas, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that there are no links between Hamas and militants in the Sinai. He added that the Islamist group had not officially been accused of the Sinai attack - and revealed that the last phone call between Hamas officials and Egyptian intelligence agents was regarding the postponement of indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel.

This, he said, was an ordinary call, and that no accusations were levelled against his party about the Sinai affair.

All leading figures in Hamas, Bardawil said, condemned the killing of the Egyptian soldiers, and had extended their condolences to the families of the victims. The party officials had also wished a speedy recovery for the wounded, saying that Hamas' only battle is with Israel.

Grief in Gaza

Following the attack on the checkpoint close to the Gaza border, several Hamas leaders posted messages of condolences on their Facebook pages, expressing their grief at the bloodshed. Two of Hamas' most prominent figures, Mahmoud al-Zahar and Khalil al-Haya, also spoke of their sadness on Hamas-run television channels.

"Some Egyptian media outlets have preconceived notions and act unethically, pointing fingers at the Gaza Strip without any investigation or proof," said Bardawil.

Bardawil added that Hamas had complained several times to Egyptian intelligence officials about the aggressive media rhetoric directed at the people of Gaza, but the authorities assured them that the media's accusations did not warrant a response.

"They advised us not to reply to them," he added.

Discussions are reportedly taking place about a possible buffer zone being established on the Egypt-Gaza border, and Bardawil stated that this area would be inside Egyptian territory. This would make the issue an Egyptian matter, which Hamas had no role in deciding, but the party hopes that such a buffer zone would not have an adverse effect on the people in Gaza, or make the siege on the territory any more strict than it already is.

Gaza now feels bound to prove its innocence for a crime it did not commit.
There are others more concerned with the new security measures, such as Adnan Abu Amer, a professor of political science in al-Ummah University in Gaza. He told al-Araby al-Jadeed that Gaza ultimately pays the price for unrest in Egypt, and in particular any militant activities in the Sinai region.

Further divides

Abu Amer said the negative attitudes of some sections of the Egyptian media and politicians towards Gaza forces both the Hamas authority and ordinary Gazans to respond in a defensive manner. Gaza now feels bound to prove its innocence for a crime it did not commit, he said.

Postponing the indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and the occupation, as well as halting security communication with the Gaza Strip, brings us back to point zero in the relations between Hamas and Gaza on one hand and the Egyptian authorities on the other," added Abu Amer.

The situation is unlikely to get any better for the people of Gaza, he concluded.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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