Egypt's police headquarters in North Sinai(Photo: Al-Ahram)
Hamas denied stealing an ID card printing machine from Egypt's North Sinai police headquarters, reported the official news agency MENA on Friday.
Spokesman of the Gaza-based Islamist movement, Sami Abu Zahri called the reports published recently in Egyptian media "rumours."
"Anyone who has information on this issue should present it to the Egyptian judiciary instead of giving it to the media; we are totally confident that Egyptians will not believe such rumours because they love Palestine," Abu Zahri said .
Egypt's security apparatus discovered the theft by chance, Youm El-Sabe Egyptian newspaper quoted a top-level security source on Friday. Security became suspicious when a Gazan, aside from similar cases of other Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, was crossing into Egyptian borders in northern Sinai.
The source accused Hamas of using the machine to print ID cards with Egyptian numbers and names; however, the interior ministry did not publicly announce the theft due to the danger posed to the country's national security.
"The decision to keep it quiet was due to fears of causing tensions in Egyptian-Israeli relations, as it would have been extremely dangerous if terrorist elements took control of Egyptian IDs; they might think of committing attacks either inside Egypt or on the borders with Israel," the source said.
"Official security agencies in Egypt are currently exerting huge efforts to end the crisis through accurate inspection of IDs carried by Palestinians entering the country," the source pointed out.
Debate on Gaza tunnels
The crisis over the ID printer is the second source of political tensions between Egypt and Hamas in less than one month. Hamas released a statement last week condemning the Egyptian government for flooding tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt and that are a lifeline access for necessities, but which also leaks through arms and illegal people-trafficking.
During a conference in Gaza, senior Hamas official Khalil El-Haya said that people in Gaza consider Egypt’s new policy of shutting down the tunnels a renewal of Israel’s blockade imposed on Gaza since 2006.
Israel and then-president Hosni Mubarak restricted the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza since Hamas gained power seven years ago.
Last week, Egyptian and Palestinian officials told AFP that Egyptian forces flooded the tunnels in an attempt to shut them down.
On 23 February, Egyptian border guards halted an attempt to smuggle around 20,000 litres of diesel fuel and petroleum through the tunnels into the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported Saturday.
Dozens of tunnels have been destroyed since August following the killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in a militant attack near the Gaza border.
Cairo said some of the gunmen had used the tunnels to cross into Egypt - a charge denied by Palestinians - and ordered an immediate crackdown. Weapons are also smuggled underground and at least 10,000 Palestinians are believed to work in the tunnel business.
The network of tunnels is a vital lifeline for Gaza, bringing in an estimated 30 per cent of all goods — including construction materials and fuel — that reach the enclave and circumvent a blockade imposed by Israel for more than seven years.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip celebrated as Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi won Egypt’s presidential elections in June 2012, believing the rise of the group from which Hamas was itself formed would help them. Now, the tunnels crisis is a key source of concern for Gazans.