Egypt Boosts Troops on Border

Egypt boosted troop security along the volatile border with Gaza on Friday, a security official said, following an alleged threat by Hamas that the group would stage kidnappings of Egyptian troops if its operatives arrested in the Sinai were not releaseThe remarks came amid stepped-up rhetoric by Egypt against Gaza’s Hamas rulers, reflecting Cairo’s growing frustration in the wake of the 12-day breach of its frontier with Gaza and the ensuing border chaos. 

Snipers were deployed on rooftops in the Egyptian part of the divided border town of Rafah on Friday, while Egyptian forces were told to move only in armed groups of at least three soldiers, the security official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the new orders followed a threat by Hamas commanders to abduct Egyptian security personnel if Egypt fails to release 15 Hamas members arrested last week in the Sinai.

He did not say how or when authorities received the alleged threat.

The Palestinians arrested here were found carrying weapons and explosives near the border and other remote parts of Egypt’s Sinai desert, and were said to have crossed from Gaza after Hamas blew up the wall separating the Mediterranean strip from Egypt on Jan. 23, setting of an influx of tens of thousands of Gazans.

But a Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, promptly denied any kidnapping threats against Egyptian troops and reiterated that Hamas is fighting the Israelis, not the Egyptians.

“This is a lie,” Abu Zuhri told The Associated Press in Gaza. “It’s not true at all. People are spreading these rumors to incite against Hamas.”

The border breach was an attempt to end a seven-month blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel, in response to Hamas’ rocket barrages from Gaza on Israeli border towns.

But Egypt, which re-closed the border last weekend, is at odds on how to resolve the border control issue and does not want Hamas to have a role in that control.

On Thursday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said no further violations of the border would be tolerated and that anyone daring to cross would have their legs broken.

The unprecedented harsh rhetoric reflected increasing tensions between Egypt and Hamas, which rejects Egypt’s proposal to bring the Rafah crossing under the mandate of the Palestinian Authority led by Hamas’ rival Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and Fatah leader.

Egypt demands a reactivation of the 2005 crossings agreement on the Rafah passage, which requires return of European monitors. Israel withdrew from the territory in 2005, but still controls access to Gaza, including Gaza’s airspace and coastline. Israel also
provides the fuel needed to run Gaza’s only power plant. It has recently withheld that fuel, causing severe power outages.

Associated Press

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