Families of kidnapped soldiers join police at Rafah border protest

Zeinab El Gundy , Tuesday 21 May 2013

Security officers – along with some relatives of kidnapped soldiers – maintain closure of Rafah border crossing with Gaza Strip for fifth consecutive day to demand soldiers' release

Since last Friday, Egyptian policemen stationed at Egypt's Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip have kept the border closed to protest last week's kidnapping of seven soldiers by unknown perpetrators in the Sinai Peninsula.

Of the seven kidnapped soldiers, four had reportedly been stationed at the Rafah crossing.

"There are about 500 soldier and officers who decided to close the Rafah crossing to voice one demand: the release of the seven soldiers, who include some of their colleagues," Major Ahmed Dasouky, an officer at the Rafah crossing, told Ahram Online via telephone.

"It's not a strike per se," Dasouky clarified, "but rather a protest against what is happening to Egypt's reputation."

Meanwhile, there are no less than 7000 Palestinians from Gaza stuck at the crossing, "3500 on the Egyptian side and another 3500 on the Gaza side," said Dasouky.

"There have been urgent demands from Egyptian political groups, along with Palestinian groups in Gaza, to reopen the crossing," he added.

According to Dasouky, Egypt's interior ministry has ordered the crossing reopened, "but soldiers and officers insist on keeping it closed, and army forces deployed in the area understand their position."

There are currently some 500 soldiers and officers protesting at the Rafah crossing, including some members of the kidnapped soldiers' families. Relatives of two of the kidnapped soldiers – Ahmed Badie and Ahmed Abdel-Hamid – are reportedly participating in the protest.

"I'm Ahmed Badie's best friend; he's like my brother," said protester Walid Abdel-Ghafur, currently at the Rafah crossing – along with Badie's family – to demand the release of his friend.

Abdel-Ghafur, who has become an impromptu media spokesman for the families of the kidnapped soldiers, told Ahram Online: "The government and interior ministry did not inform Badie's family about his kidnapping; we learned about it from a police officer working in Rafah."

Abdel-Ghafur recalled the day his friend went missing: "Ahmed [Badie] was returning to his post from his hometown of Abu Kabir in the Sharqiya governorate. I told him to call me when he reached Rafah, but he never called and we became worried."

Learning of their son's kidnapping, Badie's family decided to join the Rafah protest. "A police officer called us on Friday and asked if we would like to join the strike to tell the world that we demand the soldiers' release," said Abdel-Ghafur.

He added: "I believe the kidnapped soldiers are not in Egypt but in Gaza; that they were captured by [Palestinian resistance faction] Hamas."

Asked about the family's reaction to a video of the kidnapped soldiers that appeared online on Sunday, Abdel-Ghafur said the family had been "shocked" to see Badie blindfolded.

"After seeing this video, the people of Abu Kabir were shocked and extremely angry," he said. "They blocked the highway in Sharqiya after seeing it, but had to reopen it again shortly afterward."

Abdel-Ghafur says there has been "no news" about Badie or any of the other kidnapped soldiers. 

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