Abbas urges Egypt to destroy underground tunnels
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
For first time, Palestinian Authority publicly calls for destruction of underground tunnels, asking Egypt to destroy those along its border with Gaza to tighten blockade.
PHOTO: ASHLEY BATES
Buoyed by growing tensions between Hamas and Cairo in wake of last week’s terrorist attack in Sinai, the Palestinian Authority on Saturday called on the Egyptians to tighten the blockade on Gaza by destroying all tunnels under their border with the Strip.
The PA said the tunnels did not contribute to the economy in the Gaza Strip and were being used only by a small number of people for personal gain.
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This was the first time the PA has called publicly for the destruction of the tunnels.
The appeal came as PA officials continued to insist that some of the terrorists who killed 16 Egyptian border guards had come from the Gaza Strip.
The officials hope that tough Egyptian security measures in Sinai, including the destruction of the tunnels, will undermine Hamas’s rule in Gaza and possibly bring about its collapse.
In the past few days, senior officials in Ramallah have been working hard to convince the Egyptians that Hamas and other radical groups in the Gaza Strip were linked – in one way or another – to last Sunday’s attack.
The PA has also provided the Egyptian authorities with the names of several suspects from the Gaza Strip, a PA security source in Ramallah disclosed.
“We have good security ties with the Egyptians and we are trying to help them capture the terrorists,” the source explained. “We have good reason to believe that terrorist groups from the Gaza Strip were involved in the attack.
These groups operate under the watchful eye of the Hamas government and sometimes even receive support from it.”
The Sinai attack came at a time when PA leaders in the West Bank were beginning to express concern over improved relations between Cairo and Hamas in light of the election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy as president.
Many Egyptians have held Hamas responsible for the attack, claiming the terrorists entered Sinai though tunnels that are under the strict supervision of the Hamas government.
Some Egyptians have urged their government to retaliate by destroying the tunnels and permanently closing the Rafah border crossing to Gaza.
“The Palestinian presidency renews its rejection and condemnation of the criminal act carried out by murderous fundamentalists in Sinai last week and affirms its full solidarity with Egypt,” said Tayeb Abdel Raheem, a top aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We also fully support all measures carried out by the Egyptian leadership and security forces against the radical and suspicious terrorist groups, including measures needed to close the smuggling tunnels that harm the interests and relations of Palestinian and Egyptians.”
Abdel Raheem said the tunnels had for some time been posing a threat to Egypt’s national security and the unity of the Palestinians.
Dismissing claims that the tunnels were being used to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, Abdel Raheem said they served only a small group of people – a reference to Hamas leaders.
“The tunnels have nothing to do with economic prosperity in the Gaza Strip,” he stressed. “The Palestinian Authority allocates more than half its budget for the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas strongly condemned the PA leadership for calling for the destruction of the tunnels and accused Abbas of “cheap opportunism.”
Salah Bardaweel, a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, denounced the call as “immoral and irresponsible.”