Border attack means Egypt-Gaza honeymoon is over (TIMES OF ISRAEL) By ELHANAN MILLER 08/07/12)
TIMES OF ISRAEL
TIMES OF ISRAEL Articles-Index-Top
Hamas condemned the Sunday assault in which 16 Egyptian troops were
killed, offered to help investigate it, set up a symbolic mourning
tent, and tried to pin blame on Israel. To no avail
Up until Sunday, relations between Cairo and Gaza were beginning to
look bright. Hamas politicians from Gaza were working diligently on
improving ties with Egypt’s new Islamist government, cautiously
elevating them from the political low of the Mubarak years.
Just two weeks ago Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh spoke
of “unprecedented positivity” following his meeting with President
Mohammed Morsi in Cairo. The Egyptian president promised to ease
Palestinians’ travel restrictions, and the Rafah border crossing
gradually began broadening its scope of activity.
Now the terror attack on the Egyptian border police outpost Sunday
night, in which 16 Egyptians were killed, has brought everything back
to square one.
Hamas condemned the attack, offered to help investigate it, set up a
symbolic mourning tent for the 16 slain Egyptians, and tried to pin
at least some of the blame on Israel. Neither Egyptian nor Israeli
leaders have charged that Hamas was specifically responsible
(although Israel blames Hamas, as the government in Gaza, for all
terror-related activity emanating from the Strip). Nonetheless, Egypt
has closed the Rafah border crossing indefinitely, started closing
tunnel routes from Gaza into the Sinai, and sent home Palestinians
flying into Cairo airport.
“We are certainly concerned about a deterioration in relations with
Egypt,” Walid Awadh, a member of the Communist Palestinian People’s
Party in Gaza, told the Times of Israel on Tuesday. “We are saddened
by the attack, but we fear a renewed siege on the Gaza Strip.”
Awadh is not alone in condemning the Egyptian decision, after the
attack, to completely and indefinitely shut the Rafah crossing,
Gaza’s only gateway to neighboring Egypt. On Monday — in an
atypically harsh statement — Hamas official Moussa Abu-Marzouq called
the measure “collective punishment” and “a move in the wrong
Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al-Azhar
University, said he expected the Egyptian closure to last between a
week and 10 days, “while Egypt tries to reevaluate its relations with
the Gaza Strip.”
“Every time there’s an attack, we in Gaza pay the price,” he said.
Abusada said Gazans were conflicted between sympathy for the
Egyptians and frustration with the new closure.
“The closure is understandable, but it is summer vacation and many
Gaza residents typically leave for Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage. The
attack happened at a critical moment.”
Andaleeb Shehadeh, a human rights activist in Gaza, told the Times of
Israel that the attack could adversely affect family relations, since
many Palestinian families straddle both sides of the border.
For Shehadeh, the solution to the illicit tunnel traffic between Gaza
and Egypt is a complete opening of the border crossings with Egypt,
as well as with Israel.
“People only turned to the tunnels because basic materials could not
enter through official crossings,” she said. “If the crossings are
opened, the tunnels will immediately become redundant.”
Shutting the tunnels was in fact the first measure Hamas took Sunday
night, just hours after the attack — amid reports that some of those
involved in orchestrating the assault had come from Gaza. On Tuesday
morning, Arab media reported that the Egyptians too began destroying
the tunnels on the Sinai side of the border.
Abusada, the political scientist, said that shutting the tunnels will
not harm the flow of food into the strip, which mostly arrives from
Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing, reopened Tuesday. But other
commodities such as gasoline, cigarettes and building materials will
now be in short supply.
“Long lines have begun to form outside gas stations following the
attack,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of our gasoline comes in from
Egypt, since it is much cheaper than the Israeli gasoline. Egyptian
gas costs just NIS 4 ($1) a liter at the pump, while Israeli gas
costs NIS 7.5 ($1.87) a liter.”
Hamas stood to lose valuable revenue by halting the illicit tunnel
trade, he noted, since it heavily taxes incoming commodities.
Gasoline is taxed some 200% while NIS 3 (75 cents) are added to the
price of every pack of cigarettes, Abusada said.
But who do Gazans blame for the attack? Communist party member Awadh
says that extremist Islamic ideology played a significant role. He
noted that progressive movements like his own have been organizing
workshops to dissuade the youth from joining radical groups.
“The youth are most susceptible to these ideas since they are
enthusiastic,” he said. “We try to teach them the difference between
our struggle for rights and extremist ways of thinking.”
Awadh added however, that the basic responsibility for the Rafah
attack lay with Israel.
“Israel knew about the [terrorist] activity in the area and could
have given Egypt accurate information, rather than just general
warnings,” he said. “The fact is that when the terrorists reached
Israel, they were immediately stopped.” (© 2012 THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY