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April 17, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 6877

On Backdrop Of Egyptian Efforts To Fight Hamas Tunnels, Egyptian Writer Calls To Tie Rapprochement With Hamas To Demolition Of Tunnels

April 17, 2017
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 6877

Recently, there have been increasing signs of rapprochement between Egypt and Hamas, including a visit by Hamas officials o Cairo in early February, 2017,[1] a more conciliatory tone taken by Hamas officials vis-à-vis Egypt, and a loosening of restrictions on the passage of Palestinians through the Rafah border crossing.[2]At the same time, Hamas official 'Izzat Al-Rishq clarified that a warming of Hamas-Egypt relations would not come at the expense of the movement's relations with other elements (i.e., other Arab or Muslim countries like Iran).[3]Egypt, for its part, has made no concessions in its war against the smuggling tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border, and continues to flood and dynamite them, actions which on several occasions have caused the death or injury of operatives working inside the tunnels. For example, on January 17, 2017 the Egyptian military demolished six tunnels, and on February 25 it demolished another in an operation that killed three people. Hamas responded with a statement condemning these actions, which stated that "there is no justification for Egypt's ongoing use of these dangerous policies vis-à-vis the besieged people of the [Gaza] Strip" and that Egypt "must open the Rafah crossing on a permanent basis in order to end the suffering of Gaza and its people." It added: "It is the right of our people to live in dignity and freedom like the other peoples of the world; the international community must intervene in order to end the oppressive siege."[4]

Following the uncovering of numerous tunnels by the Egyptian military, the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm published several articles that condemned Hamas for using the tunnels to smuggle arms, terrorists and funds and thereby jeopardizing Egypt's security. Among those who addressed this topic were the daily's owner, Salah Al-Diab, and Egyptian writer and historian 'Abbas Al-Tarabili.

The following are excerpts from their articles:

 


One of the tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border (image: Al-Ayyam, PA, March 8, 2017)

 

'Al-Masri Al-Yawm' Editor: The Tunnels Have Become A Major Source of Discord Between Hamas And Egyptian Governments

Salah Al-Diab wrote about the threat posed to Egypt by the smuggling tunnels and about Egypt's efforts to fight them: "Hamas invented the tunnels and used them to benefit itself, not the Palestinian people of Gaza. The tunnels became a major source of discord between Hamas and Egyptian governments, discord which peaked when Egypt discovered that the tunnels were used to smuggle arms, terrorists and funds... Hamas gains considerable profits from the smuggling, up to $20,000 a day. Egypt, for its part, has destroyed over 5,000 tunnels and was forced to construct an iron barrier, 10 km long and 20-30 meters deep, at a cost of $2 billion. The barrier is 50 cm thick to make it proof against explosives. It also contains a 10-km pipe that carries sea-water and has openings every 30-40 meters, to create cracks in any tunnel that might be dug."[5]

Egyptian Historian: "Every Day We Awaken To Discover A New Tunnel That Brings Death To Our People And State"

Egyptian author and historian 'Abbas Al-Tarabili also wrote an article in Al-Masri Al-Yawm in which he harshly condemned Hamas and its actions. He stated that, despite its claims that it is increasing its presence on the Egyptian border to prevent the digging of tunnels, Hamas is not doing enough to end this dangerous phenomenon that is a threat to Egypt's security, and that the organization in fact benefits from the tunnels by taxing the goods smuggled through them. He called on the Egyptian authorities to continue their firm policy against the tunnels, to demand that Hamas reveal their location, and to make the destruction of tunnels a condition for Egypt's ongoing efforts to achieve an intra-Palestinian reconciliation as well as a condition for opening the Rafah crossing.

Al-Tarabili wrote: "How much longer will Egypt be patient with the Palestinian brothers who stab [us in the back?]... Every day we awaken to discover a new tunnel that brings death to our people and state. Is this simply our fate? We don't wish to boast about having shown grace to someone, but we have helped the Palestinians more than anyone else throughout their agonies that have lasted for nearly a century. Forget all the arguments with those who claim to stand with the Palestinian people, and there are many of them; in all honesty, those who trade in the Palestinian problem are numerous [as well].

"According to the Egyptian army spokesman, the Egyptian Border Guard [recently] uncovered a large tunnel in north Sinai that is obviously different from the many small tunnels. It is sad that this is happening while Egypt is trying to bring the warring Palestinian factions together, particularly Fatah and Hamas. Cairo hosts their representatives in order to bring them together and unite all Palestinian forces vying for power. Stranger yet is the fact that immediately upon returning to Gaza, Hamas leaders state that they will not allow interference in [matters of] Egypt's national security, and then the farce reaches its height when we uncover numerous tunnels. [In the meantime] Hamas announces the increase of security presence on its side [of the border]... as though [it] doesn't realize that all these tunnels are dug so that its men can pass over to Egyptian Rafah in order to smuggle weapons from their side along with the people who train the Sinai rebels, and in order to take subsidized food products from Egypt and sell them in Palestinian Rafah for Israeli shekels. There is also the longstanding issue of the smuggling of narcotics and cigarettes [into Egypt].

"On this matter, I and all respectable national figures believe that we must undertake a measure-for-measure policy: If [Egypt] has moved the residents of Egyptian Rafah away from the border for their own safety, and paid a hefty price for it,[6] why doesn't Hamas – who has sole control over the Gaza Strip, including Palestinian Rafah – move its residents away from the border at all costs to prevent them from digging hundreds of tunnels with which to trade in the lives and livelihoods of Egyptians? None of [the residents of Gaza] can even cough without Hamas knowing about it, let along dig tunnels! The reason Hamas doesn't do this is that Hamas benefits from these tunnels by charging tolls and taxes for them, and receives some of the profits from the goods that pass through them. It is not enough for Hamas to announce that it has increased its patrols on the border; it must send us maps of the tunnels.

"If [Hamas] cannot control the tunnel entrances on its side, why not enable us to work with it to uncover the tunnels and destroy every tunnel opening on its side? Moreover, I believe Egypt should tie its ongoing efforts to reconcile the Palestinian parties to the uncovering of these tunnels – meaning that Hamas must cooperate with us in fighting these tunnels in return for us continuing to promote the reconciliation... Hamas should make gestures and cooperate with us on terrorism, and especially on the tunnels, because most of the weapons smuggled through these tunnels are meant to be used against us. In fact, Egypt should officially announce that it is halting all attempts to reconcile [between the Palestinian factions] until Hamas meets Egypt's legitimate demand. We must tie the opening of the Rafah crossing, and the crossings for goods located to the south of it, to the destruction of tunnels on their side. And do not speak to us about the humanitarian aspects, [the people] on both sides of the crossing and those who require medical care. The folk saying goes: 'if wind is coming in through your [open] door, close it and [then you will have some] rest'...

"We require a decisive move, and not on Hamas's part. We need an even more decisive step. We must stop burying our heads in the sand." [7]

 

 

[1] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), February 4, 2017.

[2] Palinfo.com, March 6, 2017.

[3] Amad.ps, February 8, 2017.

[4] Palinfo.com, February 25, 2017.

[5] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 17, 2017.

[6] As part of fighting the tunnels, in October 2014 Egypt demolished the homes of Rafah residents and moved them to new locations farther away from the border.

[7] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 22, 2017.

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