Egypt Boosts Security Along Gaza Border
Associated Press Writer
Egypt boosted security along its volatile border with Gaza Friday after Hamas allegedly threatened to kidnap Egyptian troops if Palestinian militants arrested in Sinai are not released, a security official said.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said Hamas warned it would abduct security personnel if Egypt does not release 15 members of the Islamic group arrested last week in the Sinai desert bordering Gaza.
He did not say how or when authorities received the alleged threat and Hamas denied it.
Hamas militants blasted down parts of the border separating Gaza and Egypt on Jan. 23, allowing hundreds of thousands of Gazans to flood across the frontier unchecked for 12 days.
Egypt has grown increasingly frustrated with Hamas after the border breach and ensuing chaos in the area. On Thursday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said no further violations of the border would be tolerated and anyone daring to cross would have their legs broken.
Snipers were deployed Friday on rooftops on the Egyptian side of Rafah, a town divided by the Gaza border. Egyptian forces were told to move only in armed groups of at least three soldiers, the security official said.
Egypt arrested the 15 Hamas militants after they were found carrying weapons and explosives near the border and in other remote parts of Egypt's Sinai desert. Egyptian security officials said they had crossed from Gaza after the border breach.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denied any kidnapping threats against Egyptian troops and reiterated that Hamas was 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.
In the wake of the breach, Hamas has demanded that it be given a role in controlling the border but Egypt and the international community are firmly opposed to the idea.
Egypt's harsh warnings to Hamas not to violate the border any further reflect increasing tensions with the militant Palestinian group. Hamas rejects Egypt's proposal to bring the Rafah crossing under the mandate of the Palestinian Authority led by rival Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and leader of the Fatah faction.
Egypt demands a reactivation of the 2005 crossings agreement on the Rafah passage, which requires the return of European monitors.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but still controls access to the territory by air, sea and land. Israel also provides the fuel needed to run Gaza's only power plant. It has recently withheld that fuel, causing power outages.
Associated Press Writer Diaa Hadid contributed to this report from Gaza City.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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