On August 5, 2012, armed terrorists from jihadi organizations opened fire on Egyptian soldiers who were breaking their Ramadan fast at a military post in the city of Rafah. After killing 16 soldiers, the terrorists seized two Egyptian armored vehicles and rode them towards the Kerem Shalom border crossing, where they were stopped by the Israeli air force. The attack prompted the Egyptians to launch "Operation Eagle" to purge Sinai of terrorists, during which they killed dozens of terrorists in northern Sinai and blocked dozens of the hundreds of tunnels connecting Sinai with the Gaza Strip.
The terrorist attack caused a strain in Egypt-Hamas relations. While Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi refrained from blaming the attack on any specific party, and the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement blamed Israel, Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) suggested that Hamas may have been involved in the attack. The SCAF's official response to the incident noted that the attackers had been assisted by terrorists inside Gaza who had fired mortars at the border crossing during the attack. Consequently, following the funerals of the soldiers, Egyptians demonstrated against Mursi and the MB, holding them partly responsible for the attack due to their ties with the Gaza Palestinians. In addition, claims were made in the Egyptian press that the attack had been carried out by the Gaza-based Salafi organization Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad, and that one of the founders of this organization, Abu Al-Walid Al-Maqdisi, was freed from prison by Hamas on August 2, 2012, only three days before the attack. According to the reports, among the members of this organization are Egyptian convicts who escaped from prison during the Egyptian revolution, and were later trained by extremist groups in Gaza, such as Jundallah. It was also reported that Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad regards the Egyptian authorities and society as apostate, and therefore sanctions the killing of Egyptian army and security personnel, and that the group recently test fired long-range missiles in Sinai.
Egyptian military expert Sayf Al-Yazal said that six takfiri organizations, including the Gaza-based Jaysh Al-Islam, had carried out the Rafah attack after three months of planning. Military expert Hussam Sweilam claimed that the attack had been perpetrated by several jihad organizations present in Sinai and Gaza, including Liwa Al-Quds and Kataib Al-Qassam, with Hamas' knowledge, and that Iran and other foreign elements had financed the extremists.
It should be noted that criticism of Hamas was voiced in Egypt even before the Rafah incident, after Hamas Prime Minister Isma'il Haniya said, during his last visit to Cairo, that Sinai was and will remain Egyptian soil and that Hamas and all Palestinians are part of Sinai's defense. This statement caused discomfort in Egypt, with many writers hurrying to clarify that Egypt must deal with its own problems, not with the problems of others. On July 28, the Egyptian daily Roz Al-Yousuf even warned of a possible terrorist attack in Sinai by jihadi elements, based on a number of factors, including the easing of restrictions on the passage of Palestinians through the Rafah crossing, the purchase of land in northern Sinai by Palestinians identified with Hamas, and the increased aid pouring into Gaza from Egypt, including hundreds of tankers carrying diesel and gasoline, as well as humanitarian convoys.
After the attack, Mursi was criticized on Facebook for his recent meetings with Hamas officials, and calls were made to take revenge on Gazan Palestinians. Egyptian oppositionists in northern Sinai even attacked humanitarian aid convoys on their way to the Gaza tunnels.
Hamas denied any involvement in the attack, and expressed its willingness to assist Egypt in the investigation and to maintain security coordination with it on a permanent basis. Egypt demanded that Hamas surrender three members of its military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, suspected of providing weapons and logistic aid to extremist groups in Sinai; Hamas consented to this, on condition that the suspects be questioned in Gaza, rather than Egypt, in order to ensure they would not be tortured. Palestinian elements called on Mursi not to emulate Mubarak's policy of besieging Gaza.
Poster announcing Gaza protest against the Rafah attack under the slogan "Palestine and Egypt – One Heart In a Single Body"
The Rafah crossing, closed after the attack, was later reopened to Palestinians in both directions, but with restrictions. After being closed for 'Id Al-Fitr, it was reopened without restrictions, to Hamas' satisfaction.
The following are excerpts from articles in the Egyptian press blaming Hamas for the Rafah attack.
Calls To Sever Relations With Hamas
'Abbas Al-Trabili, the former editor of Al-Wafd, wrote: "Do not say that the perpetrators [of the attack] were Muslims... They are not Muslims, or even Persians. They are criminals from Gaza, who receive [Egyptian] aid in the form of electricity, diesel, and food, which we deny our own people, and repay us with treachery by killing our sons while they were eating their iftar meal... Don't tell us that Hamas and its authorities know nothing, because nothing can move, here or there, without attracting their notice. They give their blessing to any operation of this sort against us...
"I wish they would act against Israel, which is occupying their land, but [instead] they consistently act against us, that is, against those who have carried the burden of their problems with Israel, while they left Israel alone and designated Egypt their number one enemy. Hamas knows about every tunnel connecting Egyptian Rafah and Palestinian Rafah even before it is dug, and they take their share of the booty [smuggled through] the tunnels, openly and in broad daylight. None of them [even bother to] deny this...
"Spare us all the false claims about [the need to] open the [border] crossings and provide aid [to the Palestinians]. He who bemoans the situation of the Gaza criminals, let him establish as many [border] crossings and tunnels as he wishes, but far away from Egypt... The solution is for Egypt to take quick and urgent steps to blow up all these tunnels at its end, after booby-trapping them with the most powerful explosives, because they bring us danger, death, and destruction... Egyptian soldiers must enter deep into these tunnels, no matter what's inside them, place explosives there, and then blow them up without warning. Those who killed our sons while they were eating their iftar meal deserve to be eliminated. The operation of blowing up the tunnels must be an all-out war against all those who thought to target Egypt's honor and troops...
"A firm stance is needed vis-à-vis Hamas and its administration. To begin with, Egypt must cease all efforts to serve Hamas and others, such as [its efforts to] promote a reconciliation between [the Palestinian] factions that will never be reconciled. All contacts with Hamas must be severed immediately – from the tankers of diesel [we send them] to the electricity we supply them in order to light up their country, while depriving our own people – until [Hamas] stops its corruption and comes to its senses...
"We want actions, firm and violent. Just as we suffered Israel's attacks, [but] then taught it a lesson that is still studied at military academies throughout the world, we must also act against others, disregarding ties of blood, language, or religion..."
Hamas Taking Over Areas In Sinai
Al-Ahram columnist 'Abdou Mubashir wrote: "Has Egypt given birth to a child named Gaza? If the answer is yes, [then I would like to know] when, where, and how this happened. And if the answer is no, [then I would like to know] why Egypt is behaving as though it is the father and mother of Gaza, and why it is being so lax in handling issues that are threatening its national security.
"[Our] officials and others know that Islamist extremist organizations have taken over Sinai, establishing weapons depots and training camps there, and that they are handing out generous sums of money, recruiting young [fighters], expanding their takeover and deterrence operations, and acting in Sinai as if it were no man's land... The leaders of Hamas and of other organizations know that amassing weapons in Gaza will prompt Israel to blow up their depots one by one. Therefore, they have begun to take advantage of the security vacuum [in Sinai] and of the Egyptians' doting attitude towards Hamas, and to use the Sinai Peninsula as a place to store the weapons smuggled in from Libya and Sudan.
"The Gaza Tunnels – A Double Edged Sword"
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"The dangers are increasing, and anyone with two eyes can see them and the oncoming storms, but the only [response] is helplessness or deliberate silence and humiliating disregard. In addition to smuggling and storing weapons, Hamas and the other organizations are working forcefully, in cooperation with Sinai locals, to take control of vast areas by every means. They also finance economic activity in the domains of investment and trade, and there are increasing mixed marriages [between Gazans and Sinai locals], and a growing number of [Palestinians] are settling [in Sinai]...
"The annoying thing is that the [Egyptian] officials treat Gaza not just as Egypt's child, but as a favorite son. For example, Egypt is suffering from a shortage of diesel, which has caused power stations and bakeries to cease production and has stopped the traffic of lorries and other vehicles. Yet despite this, [our] leaders have decided to immediately supply 300,000 tons of diesel to Gaza, and an additional 100,000 liters at a later date. While some parts of Egypt suffer power outages that last hours and sometimes days, [our] officials have spared Gaza the need to live in the dark by supplying it with electricity for light and industry – even though [it means] asking the Egyptians to be prudent in their use of electricity. [Our] leaders continue to meet every demand made by Gaza, and to give it priority, while ignoring the dangers threatening Egypt's national security in Sinai."
The Blood Of The Rafah Victims Is Crying Out For Revenge
The former board chairman of the Egyptian daily Roz Al-Yousuf, Karam Gaber, wrote: "It is easiest to blame Israel for the Rafah massacre... because it spares the various parties the need to look for the real culprit... But what about Hamas and its role in [creating] the sorry security situation in Sinai, which has become the home of militias and numerous terrorist organizations and groups? [Hamas'] leaders utter smooth words of praise for Egypt, calling it 'the mother country' and 'the leader of the Arab nation,' but their conduct on the ground raises many doubts and questions.
"I wish to tell Hamas' leaders and supporters that the blood of the martyrs is crying out for revenge, not apologies; for justice, not condolences; for prosecuting the murderers, not hiding and smuggling them [out of reach]; for real cooperation with the Egyptian authorities to purge Sinai, not for manipulations and [attempts to] erase the facts...
"[Among the doubts and questions that are raised by Hamas' conduct are the following:] First, why has Hamas insisted on maintaining the tunnels when the Rafah crossing is open all week, 12 hours a day, and when the tunnels are clearly used to smuggle weapons, drugs, people, stolen cars, criminals, and terrorists? [In addition,] I don't know why the Egyptian authorities have closed the file on the prisoners who [escaped from] Egyptian jails that were breached during the revolution and [then] smuggled [into Gaza] through the tunnels. For whose sake do they leave this investigation secret, hidden in a drawer, thereby encouraging the continued abuse of [Egyptian] national sovereignty and the bold [attacks on] the homeland's security and stability?
"Second, where are the arsenals of heavy weapons, missiles, and tanks that were smuggled into Sinai from Libya and Sudan? Are they meant for suicide missions against Israel, with the aim of embroiling Egypt in a war [whose outcome will be] similar to the defeat of '67, or for terrorist operations inside Egypt, like those of the 1990s? And where is Hamas in all of this, [considering that] it rules Gaza and regulates its [entire] array of organizations, including the ones it publicly renounces but secretly sponsors?
"Third, Hamas and its leadership have never issued an official condemnation of the [operations] to blow up the gas pipeline in Sinai, even after [these attacks] stopped the export of Egyptian gas to Israel, and they have never advanced any positive initiative for cooperation with the Egyptian authorities and for providing information leading to the capture of the criminals. [Hamas] always kicks the ball into the Egyptian court and says, 'give us the names of the accused and we will put them on trial' – and other excuses of this kind, aimed at buying time. [In fact,] some reports confirm that the criminals escape to Gaza through the tunnels controlled by Hamas.
"Fourth, what exactly did Isma'il Haniya mean when he said on the podium at Al-Azhar, during his recent visit to Egypt, that 'Egypt is the leader of the Arab nation, and Palestine will only be liberated by means of Egypt'? Add to this the statements made by [Islamist preacher] Safwat Higazi, who said that millions are marching to liberate Al-Aqsa, eliminate Israel, and establish an Islamic caliphate with Jerusalem as its capital and with Egypt as one of its provinces, as well as similar statements by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and we have the right to wonder: are these [mere] populist pronouncements, or messages [encouraging] the extremist organizations to escalate, heighten, and intensify the conflict with Israel, so that Egypt finds itself in a new regional conflict it does not need?
"It is easiest to blame Israel for [spilling] the pure blood of the martyrs – but this means neglecting [our duty towards] their souls, waiving revenge, and letting the real culprit enjoy his crime while anticipating the next heinous crime."
 Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 6, 2012.
 Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), August 8, 2012.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 6, 2012.
 Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), August 6, 2012.
 Al-Watan (Egypt), August 7, 2012.
 Al-Quds (Jerusalem), August 7, 2012.
 Al-Dustour (Egypt), August 8, 2012.
 Maannews.net, August 3, 2012.
 Al-Dustour (Egypt), August 8, 2012.
 Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 25, 2012.
 Al-Shurouq (Egypt), July 25, 2012.
 Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), July 30, 2012; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 29, 2012.
 Roz Al-Yousuf (Egypt), July 28, 2012.
 Alwatanvoive.com, August 6, 2012.
 Al-Quds (Jerusalem), August 7, 2012.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 10, 2012.
 Al-Ayyam (PA), August 14, 2012.
 Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 15 & 25, 2012; ikhwanonline.com, August 22, 2012.
 Al-Wafd (Egypt), August 7, 2012.
 Source: Irarab.com.
 Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 8, 2012.
 For excerpts from Higazi's statements, see MEMRI TV Clip No. 3431, Egyptian Cleric Safwat Higazi Launches MB Candidate Muhammad Mursi's Campaign: Mursi Will Restore the "United States of the Arabs" with Jerusalem as Its Capital, May 1, 2012.
 Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), August 7, 2012.