Jerusalem, Aug. 10 – Last weekend’s terrorist attack in which Islamist militants killed 16 Egyptian border police has opened a serious rift between Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood leader and Iran-backed Palestinian terror groups in Gaza.
Egypt on Friday demanded that Hamas officials hand over three senior member of the Army of Islam terror group after Egyptian officials discovered one of the terrorists it had killed had belonged previously to the terror group. Hamas, armed and financed by Iran, controls the Gaza Strip and is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. There was no word on whether the organization would comply with the Egyptian demand.
The move came a day after Egypt demanded Gaza hand over three senior members of Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz A-Din al-Qassam Brigades, for their involvement in the terrorist attack. The terrorists struck an Egyptian border post, killed the soldiers and then commandeered two vehicles and crashed through the Israeli border aiming to blow themselves up and cause massive casualties. They were halted by Israeli forces who called in air support.
Egypt said it had killed 60 terrorists in response to the attack, highlighting the growing lawlessness of the Sinai Peninsula.
The Arabic daily A-sharq Al-Awsat reported that Egypt sought the arrest of Army of Islam head Mumtaz Dormush and two of his deputies. Dormush is believed to have had a part in the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.
The Palestinian Maan New Agency reported that Egypt temporarily opened the Rafah border crossing to Gaza for two days, Friday and Saturday, but has set no date for its return to normal operations. However people involved in the tunnel trade under Gaza's border with Egypt said the underground network was broadly operating again after Egypt destroyed several tunnels in the attack's aftermath.
As his first major national security issue, last weekend’s attack was a rude awakening for Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, who comes out of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political tradition of deep hostility toward Israel and shares an ideological affiliation with Hamas.
The ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 created a power vacuum in Sinai that was quickly filled by jihadists. According to Michael Herzog of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, they joined local Bedouin, many of whom felt alienated from the central government and hoped to improve economic conditions in their underdeveloped region through activities such as cross-border smuggling.
These Bedouin, especially those in the northeast and the mountainous central areas, are well armed and increasingly influenced by extreme Islamist ideology. They cooperate closely with Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups from Gaza, which have established a foothold in Sinai by recruiting local tribesmen for various operations.