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Hamas denies role in the Rafah attack on Egyptian soldiers

Hamas denies involvement in the attack that killed 16 soldiers on the Egyptian-Israel border in August 2012 and reiterates 'its commitment to Egypt's security'

Ahram Online, Bassem Aly, Sunday 17 Mar 2013
Badie & Meshaal
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, listens during a meeting with members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 (Photo: AP) Egypt, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 (Photo:AP)
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Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said on Saturday that Palestinians would never forget the "sacrifices" made by Egypt for the Palestinian cause.

"The security, stability and political strength [of Egypt] positively reflect on the whole Arab world, and no one will accept interrupting those elements," Haniyeh told El-Sayed El-Badawi, head of Egyptian opposition liberal Wafd Party in a phone conversation reported by Egypt's state-run news agency MENA.

Media controversy has been growing recently about who killed 16 Egyptian border guards near Rafah in the Sinai Peninsula last year, following recent anonymous leaks that blamed perpetrators from Gaza.

Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, a state-run Egyptian weekly magazine, sparked controversy on Thursday by claiming three Hamas members were responsible for the operation.

The alleged perpetrators were Ayman Nofal, a leading figure in Hamas's military wing, the Qassam Brigades, who escaped from an Egyptian prison during the January 25 Revolution; Mohamed Ibrahim Abu-Shamala, also known as Abu Khalil; and Raed Attar, who lead the team that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006.

The magazine claimed security officials had confirmed the information, adding the attack was carried out in response to the Egyptian military's decision to destroy tunnels linking Egypt and Gaza, a lifeline for people in the besieged enclave.

Other Egyptian tabloids, and some newspapers in the Gulf, also circulated reports accusing Hamas members of orchestrating the attack.

Evidence shows 40 Hamas members carried out the Rafah attacks, claimed an anonymous military source quoted by Egypt's Al-Shorouk newspaper on Sunday.

The Egyptian armed forces issued a report last year saying the perpetrators of the attack had entered Egypt from Gaza without specifying their nationalities or political affiliations.

At the time, MENA quoted an anonymous Egyptian security official claiming the attackers were Islamists who infiltrated Egypt from the Gaza Strip via tunnels and were joined by Islamists from Al-Halal Mountain and Al-Mahdia in eastern Sinai.

Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, has vehemently denied any involvement in the attack on Egyptian soldiers, and has deployed its security forces to monitor the Gaza-Egypt border.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal on Saturday at the group's main headquarters in Cairo's Mokattam to discuss various issues of mutual concern.

According to a statement published on the Muslim Brotherhood’s official Facebook page, the meeting tackled several issues, including Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli prisons, the situation in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the future of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

“Meshaal confirmed that Hamas along with the Palestinian people respects the interests and security of Egypt,” read the statement, adding that the Hamas government does not intend to interfere in any of Egypt’s internal affairs as “Egypt represents strong support for the Palestinian cause in the past, present and future.”

According to the statement, Meshaal told Badie that he is in touch with the Egypt authorities, including the presidency and the general intelligence service, to coordinate in serving Egypt’s national security.

There have also been reports in both the Egyptian and the Israeli media over the past few weeks that three training camps are operating in northern Sinai, associated with Al-Qaeda linked Egyptian group Ansar Al-Jihad, as well as other Islamist groups, Jund Muhammad, Jund Al-Islam, Tawhid and the Gaza-based Al- Jihad.

These accusations were denied by Hamas as well.

"If this was true, the security bodies would have called and asked for information about them, but this did not happen," MENA quoted Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a Gaza-based senior Hamas leader, as saying.

 "Relations between Hamas and Egypt are better than ever before," Al-ZAhar said.

Al-Zahar added he was surprised by accusations against Hamas in the Egyptian media, which he said were obtained from anonymous sources and were unfounded.

He also said that he expects "the campaigns against Hamas" to continue until the Egyptian parliamentary elections take place, and that they will increase in severity during the elections.

In support of Hamas's denial of any involvement in the attack on the Egyptian soldiers, El-Sayed El-Badawi reportedly told Haniyeh that "media accusations" Hamas was responsible for the attack signify "part of the internal political struggles" in Egypt.

Al-Zahar told MENA that President Morsi's government does not prioritise supporting Hamas over Egyptian national interests, and those who believed so were mistaken.

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