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Hamas 'ready to close tunnels' if Egypt reopens Rafah

Aug. 12, 2012 5:09 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 14, 2012 9:41 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Hamas is prepared to shut down smuggling tunnels under its shared border if Egypt opens the Rafah crossing permanently, a senior Hamas official said Sunday.

"The tunnels are a popular and compulsory way to lift the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip," Salah Al-Bardawil told a press conference in Gaza.

"We are sure that the Egyptian leadership will work hard to support and help the Palestinian people," he added.

The Hamas official said Gaza has not received any direct accusations from Egypt concerning the Sinai attack, and repeated his party's denial that there was any Palestinian involvement.

Hamas is prepared to cooperate with Egyptian authorities to ensure that the perpetrators behind the attack are found, he said, adding that Israel is the only party to benefit from a deterioration in the relationship between Gaza and Egypt.

After gunmen killed 16 Egyptian border guards on Sunday, Egypt closed its border with the Gaza Strip and sealed smuggling tunnels that provide a lifeline to the besieged territory.

Egyptian officials have vaguely accused Palestinians of involvement in the attack in the Sinai but have yet to identify suspects. Gaza's leadership says it has not seen any proof that Palestinians from the territory were involved, and factions have roundly condemned the attack.

The Egyptian state newspaper al-Ahram said on Friday some 150 tunnels had been destroyed. The tunnels are believed to number some 1,000.

A senior Fatah official said Saturday that the Palestinian Authority supports Egypt's efforts to shut down a tunnel network under the border with the Gaza Strip.

Hamas leader Salah al-Bardawil immediately hit back decrying the PA position as "despicable opportunism which contradicts all values and ethics and national responsibilities."
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