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Egypt police close Rafah crossing in protest over kidnappings

May 17, 2013 11:52 A.M. (Updated: May 18, 2013 12:54 P.M.)
EL-ARISH, Egypt (Ma'an) -- Egyptian police on Friday closed the Rafah crossing on Gaza's border in protest at the abduction of their colleagues.

The police closed the gates of Rafah crossing and prevented general and military intelligence officers from entering the terminal in protest at the kidnapping of their colleagues, a Ma'an reporter said.

The police said they would not reopen Rafah crossing until their colleagues were released.

Gunmen on Thursday ambushed two minibuses in Sinai's Wadi al-Akhdar and detained seven Egyptian servicemen.

Four of the captured men worked at Rafah crossing, sources at the terminal said, identifying them as Ahmad Osama Fathi, Karim al-Husini Ibrahim, Ahmad Abed al-Hamid, and Ahmad Abed al-Bade.

The three others were identified as border guards Ibrahim Subhi, Mohammad Abed al-Aziz Mohammad, and Mohammad Shaban.

The servicemen were abducted when gunmen ambushed two minibuses in Wadi al-Akhdar, between el-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid cities. Their captors are demanding the release of prisoners, Egyptian security officials told Ma'an.

Gaza's Interior Ministry announced a state of alert along its border with Egypt on Thursday.The Hamas-run ministry said security was heightened in case the kidnappers tried to smuggle the Egyptian servicemen into the Gaza Strip.

Witnesses told Ma'an that Egyptian forces closed seven smuggling tunnels in al-Sarsoryeh, east of Rafah, on the Egypt-Gaza border. Large forces of Egyptian soldiers were seen along the border.

Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi summoned his defense and interior ministers for crisis talks on the kidnapping, the official MENA agency reported.

Local Bedouin leaders have been called in to mediate between authorities and the kidnappers.

A spate of hostage takings, which usually last for no longer than 48 hours, broke out in Sinai after an uprising forced out President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 and battered his security services.

Islamist militants have exploited the lawlessness and upheaval in the Sinai peninsula to establish a launchpad for increasingly brazen attacks on security forces, a key gas export pipeline and on neighboring Israel.

The Sinai kidnappers are usually Bedouin who want to trade the hostages for jailed fellow tribesmen.

Since the collapse of Mubarak's regime, Israel's border with Sinai has seen multiple security incidents, with militants using the lawless peninsula to stage attacks on Israel.

The most serious incident was in August 2011, when gunmen infiltrated southern Israel and staged a series of ambushes that killed eight Israelis.

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