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The News Line: Feature FATAH ANGERS HAMAS OVER GAZA TUNNELS A SENOR 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, prompting outrage from the territory’s Hamas government.

Fatah’s Tayyeb Abdul Rahim, who also heads the president’s office, said the PA considers the tunnels ‘pathways of vandalism,’ and backs Egypt’s fight against terrorist groups in the Sinai by closing them down.

The tunnels have recently become a threat to Egypt’s security, and they harm reconciliation between Gaza rulers Hamas and his Fatah party, as well as damaging Egypt’s relationship with Palestinians, he said in a statement.

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

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.

The crossing was briefly reopened on Friday. Tunnelers on the Egyptian side said Egyptian forces were not closing tunnels that were previously known to them and used to bring food and construction materials to Gaza.

Abdul Rahim denied that the tunnels, the only route to transport goods into the Gaza Strip which is under an Israeli blockade, contributed to its economic recovery.

‘The tunnels only serve a small category of stakeholders and private interests and those who are inconsiderate of Egypt and Palestine’s higher interests,’ he said.

He stressed that the West Bank-based PA dedicates half its budget to the Gaza Strip. The government is serious about cooperating with Egypt to confront common challenges and risks to serve the interest of both nations, he added.

Bardawil called on the Fatah-led government to stop participating in the siege on Gaza.

‘We are looking forward to the day when the blockade is ended in addition to demolishing the tunnels and we are sure that the wise Egyptian leadership will not leave the Palestinian people under siege,’ he said.

The Prime Minister of the Hamas-run government Ismail Haniya has said that it has not been proved that any Palestinian from Gaza was involved in the killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai.

During a meeting with a delegation from Islamic Jihad, Haniya noted that Hamas and the government in Gaza did not receive any official notification or list of names of suspects from the Gaza Strip.

The Islamic Jihad delegation, headed by Nafith Azzam, discussed with Haniya the situation in Gaza and the latest developments in the aftermath of the attack on Egyptian soldiers in Sinai.

Spokesman of the Hamas government in Gaza, Tahir al-Nunu, said in a statement that Haniya and the Islamic Jihad delegation addressed the efforts made by Haniya’s government since the attack in Sinai.

He updated Islamic Jihad on the contacts his government has been making with Egyptian officials since the attack.

According to the statement, Islamic Jihad expressed support for the way Haniya’s government dealt with the crisis and the efforts exerted to maintain security for Palestinians as well as Egyptians.
Both sides asserted that Palestinian resistance would never be a shelter or umbrella for those who went astray ideologically and in terms of Jihad, the statement said.

Egyptian officials have vaguely accused Palestinians of involvement in the attack in the Sinai but have yet to identify suspects.

Shortly after the attack, Egypt closed the border with Rafah and sealed smuggling tunnels that provide a lifeline to the besieged territory. The crossing was briefly reopened on Friday.

Meanwhile, five detainees captured on Friday morning by the Egyptian army in northern Sinai have been charged with leading ‘Jihadist’ groups and involvement in what the Egyptian authorities described as ‘terrorist attacks’ in the Sinai.

Egyptian security officials said that the suspects are accused of planning and carrying out an attack on the Sheikh Zuwaid police station after the revolution in Egypt which toppled Husni Mubarak.

They were also accused of leading ‘Jihadist’ groups and smuggling weapons between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Amongst other charges, the suspects were accused of targeting police officers and police posts in northern Sinai.

Egyptian authorities described the five as ‘the most dangerous extremists in Sinai.’

An Egyptian security official said that Egyptian security services captured the suspects after ransacking their homes in Sheikh Zuwaid on Friday morning. The official said that intelligence services collected information about the suspects before raiding their homes.

The five have been transferred to Cairo, while three other detainees have been released.

Families of the five suspects denied the charges. Several of them said that they were never affiliated to any extremist group in Sinai, nor involved with any refugee camp near the port city of Sidon in south Lebanon.

l The Fatah leader in Lebanon’s largest refugee camp on Saturday said the group is ready to provide assistance to Palestinians in Syria in case of an escalation in the conflict.

‘We will not get involved in the Syrian situation because the Syrian government is responsible to protect Palestinian refugees, but in case this doesn’t happen we will be ready with a brigade and weapons to reach Palestinian refugee camps in Syria,’ Munir al-Makdah, a leader in Ain al-Hilweh camp, said.

The Fatah leader said he has reformed a 400 man brigade called ‘Al-Yarmouk forces’ which is ready to head to Syria to provide protection for Palestinian refugees.

Al-Makdah is in constant contact with the head of the Al-Aqsa Brigades in Syria, Abu Jihad Zidani, to check on the situation for Palestinians in the country, he added.

Around 400 Palestinians have been killed in Syria so far, mostly by snipers, Palestinian official Mohammad Shtayyeh said last week.

A convey of aid from the Palestinian Authority arrived in Palestinian refugee camps in Damascus on Thursday, the PA ambassador to Syria said.

17 trucks of medicine, wheat and food staples were welcomed by representatives of 15 Palestinian factions, scouts, the local UNRWA director and Ali Mustafa, the director of the Arab Palestinian refugees commission.


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