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Hamas says security at southern Gaza border reinforced following Sinai attack

July 9, 2017 1:55 P.M. (Updated: July 9, 2017 8:28 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- In the wake of a car bomb attack Friday in the northern Sinai Peninsula that left at least 23 Egyptian soldiers killed, the Hamas-run Interior Ministry said it was cooperating with Egypt in reinforcing security measures at Gaza’s southern border with Sinai.

An Egyptian army spokesperson said at the time of the attack that 26 members of Egypt’s armed forces were either killed or injured in the explosion in the Rafah district, which were initially said to include 10 fatalities. However, it was later reported that more bodies were pulled from under the rubble, and that at least 23 soldiers were killed.

Forty fighters were killed in a subsequent gun battle with Egyptian soldiers, and ABC news said Monday that the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bomb attack.

Deputy Interior Minister in Gaza Tawfiq Abu Naim said Sunday that Gaza security forces subsequently tightened security at the border area “to prevent any cases of wanted fugitives attempting to sneak into Gaza from Egypt.”

He offered condolences to Egypt for the loss the soldiers who were killed in the attack, as did the head of Hamas’ politburo Ismail Haniyeh.

Haniyeh visited a memorial site set up by the Egyptian community in Gaza’s Rafah city and affirmed Hamas’ commitment to continuing to strengthen ties with Egypt, referring to recent meetings between the two bodies regarding improving relations based on increasing cross border security, which includes plans to construct a 100-meter-wide military buffer zone.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian security spokesperson said Saturday that operations were ongoing “to catch terrorists” involved in Friday’s attack., which included a security cordon imposed by the army and air force in the Rafah area.

Fighting between the Egyptian army and the Sinai Province has escalated since Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi took power from Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, which has since left hundreds killed, including civilians, security forces, and alleged militants.

Over the past few months, at least four deadly attacks have also targeted Egypt's Christian minority, prompting army al-Sisi to declare a state of emergency in the country.

Al-Sisi has come under attack over his violent suppression of Muslim Brotherhood members following his rise to power, which the Egyptian president has argued is necessary to deter future attacks in the Sinai and across Egypt.

Amid the fighting, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented possible extrajudicial executions by Egyptian forces who allegedly staged a counterterrorism raid to cover up killings.

While Hamas has consistently denied past allegations of involvement in the Sinai insurgency, Hamas has a vested interest in increasing security cooperation with Egypt, amid a diplomatic siege by Egypt and other Arab countries on Hamas’ long-time supporter Qatar, where the former head of Hamas’ politburo was based.

Now that Hamas’ leadership is concentrated in Gaza, the political party is dependent on the goodwill of the Egyptian government to maintain its leaders’ freedom of movement through their shared border, where Cairo has enforced a brutal, decade-long Israeli siege.
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