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‘Palestinians of Gaza pay the price when turmoil reins’

This posting has these items on the worsening relationship between Egyptians and Hamas/Palestinians

1) Al Shabaka: Why is the Egyptian Regime Demonizing Palestinians?, August 13th;
2) Times of Israel: Egypt’s ire raised as Hamas harbors Sinai jihadists, August 22nd;
3) PIC/Alray:Egyptian army destroys more tunnels in Rafah area, short news pieces on the increasingly strained Egypt/Hamas relationship, August 20th;
4) Huff Post/AP: Egypt Tightens Gaza Restrictions, July 24th;
5) Al Jazeera: Gazan suffering treated as side show to Egyptian ‘main stage act’ , July 19th;
6) AFP: 24 Egyptian Policeman Killed In Deadliest Sinai Peninsula Attack In Years, August 19th;

Trucks carrying Egyptian army tanks arriving in Rafah city. Photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Why is the Egyptian Regime Demonizing Palestinians?

By Haidar Eid, al-shabaka commentary
August 13, 2013

Palestinians know that if Cairo sneezes then Palestine, especially Gaza, is first to get the flu. Indeed, Gaza often serves as a tool of regime policy, as was the case during the Mubarak years and during the short-lived government led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and is still the case with the current regime since July 2013.

The Mubarak regime’s policy towards Gaza was generally repressive. It participated in Israel’s draconian siege of the enclave, underway since 2006, and was fully complicit in Israel’s brutal offensive against Gaza in 2008-9. Former Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit was standing next to his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni when she declared war on Gaza during her visit to Cairo in 2008.

Aboul Gheit went so far as to threaten to break the legs of the Palestinians of Gaza if they “encroached on Egypt’s national security” after they breached the border wall with Egypt, seeking to buy medicines and other necessary supplies in Al-Arish City. Naturally, such a repressive policy had to involve demonization of the Gaza Palestinians, painting them all as members of Hamas.

Hamas had great expectations of change after the downfall of the Mubarak regime, including the permanent opening of the Rafah Crossing and the free passage of people and goods, thus eliminating the need for the tunnels connecting Gaza to Egypt. Some optimists further hoped that the efforts for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah would finally bear fruit, given that the Mubarak regime had been biased towards Fatah.

However, the transitional rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that took power after Mubarak’s downfall did not lift the siege on Gaza or change the Egyptian political approach to Palestine. The tunnels continued to ply their trade to compensate for the massive shortage of supplies blocked by Israel. The Rafah Crossing was partially opened for very limited periods of time, depriving 1.7 million Palestinians of the basic right of freedom of movement.

The high hopes were therefore deferred until the Egyptian presidential elections. Palestinians believed that a democratically elected president would have the power to take sovereign decisions and implement the nationalist and Islamist position of ending the blockade on the Gaza Strip, revisiting the Camp David Accords, and responding to the Palestinian Call For Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions until Israel abided by international law. Some even believed that the newly elected president’s first trip abroad would be to Gaza. Ironically, the first visit Mohamed Morsi made after his election was to Saudi Arabia, which had been hostile to the Egyptian revolution; a visit to Gaza was never in the cards.

In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood was unable to rise to the challenge of government. They came late to the January 25 revolution, seeking first to appease the Mubarak regime. They then forged a temporary alliance with the SCAF and endorsed some of its most violent actions, including the October 2011 assault on peaceful demonstrators, many of them Egyptian Copts, protesting the demolition of a church in Upper Egypt. Once in government, they lacked a clear political vision; one could have easily mistaken the president’s speeches for a Friday sermon or an address by a tribal leader.

On the home front, the Brotherhood failed to make even limited progress in realizing the demands of the January 25 revolution for bread, freedom, social justice, and human dignity. The economy nearly collapsed and security worsened. Radical Islamist Takfiri groups increased their hold in the Sinai and Israel appears to freely wander through the area, to the extent of reportedly abducting a Palestinian there this June. Despite this reality, the Gaza Palestinians are forced to pay the price of any criminal act that takes place in Sinai.

The Brotherhood’s slogans against Israel – such as “we shall march to Jerusalem in our millions” – and the United States disappeared after they came to power. Instead, it adopted a pragmatic position well to the right of the political spectrum. Pragmatism meant a commitment to international agreements, a special relationship with the U.S., loans from the International Monetary Fund, and diplomatic ties with Israel.

There was no attempt to abrogate the 1979 peace treaty nor even to put it to a popular referendum. On the contrary, a few months into his term, Morsi sent a very friendly letter to Israeli President Shimon Peres regarding the appointment of the new Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv. He described Peres as his “great and good friend” and expressed his “strong desire to develop the cordial ties” between the two countries. Meanwhile, the blockade against Gaza was tightened: Almost all the tunnels were shut down and the Rafah Crossing functioned at a snail’s pace.

The Morsi presidency took credit for brokering a ceasefire agreement between Palestinian factions and Israel in November 2012 but failed to intervene to hold Israel to its commitments, including lifting the blockade against Gaza. The fact that Morsi’s Egypt did not stand by Gaza during that short but ruthless war that killed more than 200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, was a bitter disappointment to the Palestinian leadership in Gaza, especially as Palestinian fighters had successfully stood their ground against the Israeli onslaught and had expected political gains as a result.

Instead, Morsi capitalized on his “victorious” mediator role to achieve his aims at home. Just three days after the war on Gaza ended he issued his notorious Constitutional Declaration giving himself powers unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history.

In short, Mubarak’s policy toward the Palestinian cause and especially toward Gaza was passed on to the Brotherhood, which did not dare challenge the crime against humanity taking place on Egypt’s border – a crime that human rights organizations and the United Nations have condemned as collective punishment with some saying it amounted to slow genocide. The victimized Palestinians were asked to be “understanding” of the transitional period that the Brotherhood needed and not to demand the impossible, as if opening the Rafah Crossing for the passage of people and goods was an impossibly heroic act.

The Egyptian military regime in power since July 3, 2013 is now demonizing everything Palestinian. The Gaza Strip is facing a far harsher blockade affecting all the crossings, including an almost complete closure of the Rafah Crossing and destruction of the tunnels. An unprecedented incitement campaign is underway in several Egyptian media outlets, especially those financed by businessmen affiliated to the Mubarak regime and some Gulf countries hostile to the January 25 revolution. Palestinians are regularly excoriated on Egyptian TV. Some commentators are gleeful over the fate awaiting Gaza’s Palestinians while others assert Hamas’s involvement in Egypt’s internal affairs and call on the Egyptian Army to launch a military attack against the Gaza Strip. Some even “accuse” Morsi of being of Palestinian origin.

Once again, the Palestinians have become the target of the Egyptian authorities’ security complex: They are the weakest link in the Arab chain and have no strong government to represent them. They are regularly harassed at and deported from Egyptian airports and crossings, even if they are simply transiting to and from Gaza. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has issued no statement calling on the Egyptian government to alleviate the stifling blockade or ensure decent treatment of Palestinian passengers. On the contrary, the PLO and particularly Fatah are rejoicing over the Brotherhood’s downfall and the difficulties this will pose for Hamas. Meanwhile, the Gaza government now faces an impasse and has no idea how to respond.

There is no doubt that this chauvinistic campaign to hold Gaza responsible for all of Egypt’s ills – from the fuel shortages to terrorism in Sinai – serves the feloul (remnants) of Mubarak’s regime, who are now in full resurgence. It is very disturbing that Egypt’s progressive voices have been silent in this regard, with some notable exceptions, even though all Palestinians, at both the official and popular levels, have condemned the terrorist acts in Sinai.

Moreover, no evidence has been found of Palestinian involvement in Egypt, including Sinai. Even if there had been, the collective punishment the Egyptian authorities are applying against the Palestinians of Gaza violates international law. By contrast, Egypt did not cut diplomatic ties with Israel, threaten military intervention, nor impose any restraints on Israelis visiting Egypt despite the many Israeli crimes against Egypt since the Camp David Accords, including the killing of five Egyptian soldiers in an Israeli airstrike in 2011.

Besides, isn’t Sinai a problem of Egypt’s making? Everyone knows that Mubarak’s regime neglected the Sinai, treating its population as second-class citizens and denying them essential services even though they are Egypt’s first line of defense. Gaza is a natural extension of the Sinai Peninsula and is therefore also part of Egypt’s national security. It is vital that the valiant Egyptian revolutionaries that brought down the Mubarak regime stand up to that regime’s feloul and their counter-revolution, which is using Palestine as a scapegoat.

There is no question that the Egyptian people as a whole remain passionately committed to Palestine and its people, despite the best efforts of the feloul. This spirit was captured in the statement issued by several intellectuals and politicians protesting the media campaign targeting the Palestinian people, demanding that the government clarify “Egypt’s policy and commitments toward the Palestinian people,” and calling on the government to preserve “all the rights of Palestinians in Egypt.”

The Egypt we want and the Egypt we need is a pluralistic, democratic and free Egypt with full sovereignty over its territory from its western border with Libya to its eastern border with Palestine, an Egypt that honors the principles for which so many laid down their lives in the January 25 revolution.

Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University. He has written widely on the Arab-Israeli conflict, including articles published at Znet, Electronic Intifada, Palestine Chronicle, and Open Democracy. He has published papers on cultural Studies and literature in a number of journals, including Nebula, Journal of American Studies in Turkey, Cultural Logic, and the Journal of Comparative Literature.

Egypt’s ire raised as Hamas harbors Sinai jihadists

Ties between terrorists on both sides of the border are frustrating authorities in Cairo, especially after a recent bloody attack

By Avi Issacharoff, Times of India
August 22, 2013

Senior figures in jihadist groups that identify with al-Qaeda are hiding out in the Gaza Strip under the auspices of Hamas, Egyptian sources confirmed to The Times of Israel in a phone call Thursday, noting that their presence in the Palestinian territory was the source of current tensions between Egypt and Hamas.

According to information held by authorities in Israel and Egypt, some of the fighters hiding out in Gaza were involved in an August 2012 attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in an outpost near the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel.

There are 15 main terror groups currently operating in the Sinai Peninsula, all of which identify, in one way or another, with al-Qaeda’s brand of global jihad. Four out of the 15 are considered the most dominant and have close contacts with terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

The most veteran of those groups is Jish Al-Islam, or the “Army of Islam,” which is based in the Gaza Strip but has many branches in Sinai. That group is responsible for the supply of weapons to other terror organizations in the peninsula and military training of their jihadist members, conducted in Gaza, from where they return to Sinai.

Their leader, Mohammed Dormosh, is well known for his ties to the Hamas leadership. Egyptian ire was raised during the Eid al-Fitr festival, which marks the end of the Ramadan fast, after Hamas released from prison in Gaza a few central terror operatives identified as members of jihadist groups who were arrested by the organization itself a few months earlier.

Last week alone, 35 shooting incidents were recorded between the Egyptian army and jihadists in the Sinai. In the period since the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood regime on July 3, 120 people have been killed in the Sinai Peninsula — soldiers and jihadists.

That number includes the 25 Egyptian policemen who were executed earlier this week by armed extremists in the northeast Sinai region. There is a clear trend of unrest and an increase in the fighting in the peninsula. Since that attack, the Egyptian authorities have been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to send a clear message to Hamas that it must halt the activities of elements that identify with al-Qaeda.

The Egyptian army, especially following the attack this week, understands that even if it shuts down the smuggling tunnels, the problem in Sinai will not disappear. As long as the security forces are unable to subdue the leadership of the armed groups and quell their motivation, terror attacks in the peninsula will continue.

Egypt is fortunate that the jihadists in Sinai are not yet coordinated. There is no body that directs the fighting against the Egyptian army. On the other hand, it is harder to hit at a horde of bodies that have many arms rather than a single head.

Egyptian army with heavy machinery used to destroy tunnels linking Egypt and Gaza arrive at Rafah City, northeast of Cairo

Egyptian army destroys more tunnels in Rafah area

August 22, 2013

GAZA,– The Egyptian army detonated at dawn Wednesday five tunnels and one house in Rafah border area between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

According to Quds Press, clouds of smoke billowed up in the Egyptian side of Rafah area, and sounds of explosions were heard on the other side of the Palestinian Rafah.

The Egyptian army have launched a major campaign against Gaza tunnels, which are used to smuggle vital supplies to the besieged population, since the military coup against president Mohamed Morsi.

The Rafah border crossing has also been closed completely since last Monday, and it is unknown if it will be reopened partially as before.

We demand opening of Rafah crossing: Hanyieh

By Alray news agency
August 20, 2013

Gaza, Alray – The Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Hanyieh said on Monday that the Palestinian Government understands the Egyptians concerns regarding security issues, but it demands the reopening of Rafah crossing.

“We wish peace and security for Egypt, but the Palestinians are severely affected of the closure of Rafah border crossing . We hope that it will be open permanently since we didn’t hurt anybody and we have never or will never pose any threat to the Egyptian security,” said Hanyieh to Alray correspondent.

Hanyieh reaffirmed that Rafah crossing is a normal right of the Palestinians and should not be closed under any circumstances.

The Egyptian authorities’ decision on Monday to close the Rafah crossing indefinitely worsen the situations in Gaza especially for stranded travelers.
Egyptian army destroys new batch of ‎border tunnels

Al Ray news agency
August 20, 2013

Gaza – Egyptian army destroyed Monday morning a number of tunnels on the ‎Palestinian-Egyptian border to the south of the Gaza Strip to mark the toughest campaign ‎carried out by the military for months.

‎Eyewitnesses in Rafah said “Egyptian excavators east of Rafah city destroyed five ‎underground tunnels, three of which are used to smuggle building materials and others ‎goods and food commodities,”‎

‎They said “after the tunnels were bombed, gush of water have been poured into them;” ‎explaining that “thunderous sounds of explosions were heard at intervals coming from the ‎border area, while smoke was seen rising from there,”

‎‎“The army destroyed a house and block walls to four farms nearby; heavy presence of ‎tanks backing the excavators and unusual active movements of the military vehicles were ‎seen along the border,” they said.

Our reporter quoted the residents of the locality affirming that the Egyptian army mined ‎and destroyed at least one tunnel Monday evening in the vicinity of Unknown Soldier ‎square, while deploying security forces in said area and closing roads. He added that they ‎inspected vehicles passing by.
Palestinian premier rejects defamation campaign against Gaza

By Alray news agency
August 20, 2013

Gaza, – Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh denied on Monday any interference in the Egyptian affairs and refuted the presence of the Palestinian resistance elements in Egypt.

“Egyptian security is part of our security; therefore we are not happy with any turmoil in Egypt that could badly affect its security,” Haniyeh said in a meeting with ex-prisoners.

He rejected the defamation of the Palestinian government in Gaza “the Palestinian factions do not have any role in the Egyptian unrest or any other Arab countries; our resistance moves towards resisting the Israeli occupation.”

Haniyeh called on the Arab nation to stand beside the Palestinian people to liberate Palestine and the prisoners.
Haniyeh reiterated Hamas’s commitment to achieving the reconciliation and national unity.
Hamas deplores Egyptian army for unfounded accusations against it

August 12, 2013

GAZA, (PIC)– The Hamas Movement strongly denounced a senior Egyptian army commander for claiming that the investigations revealed the involvement of Hamas individuals in the Sinai events.

This came in response to recent remarks made by commander of Egypt’s second field army in Sinai Ahmed Wasif, in which he accused Hamas, without stating any evidence, of what had happened in Sinai

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri stressed that such accusations are blatant lies that include no numbers or names as usual.

“The Movement categorically denies that its members are involved in the Sinai events, and expresses its regret that such remarks were made in an attempt to reverse the equation and falsely convince the Egyptian people that the enemy is Hamas and not Israel,” Abu Zuhri underlined.
Hamas: Gaza blockade heralds grave humanitarian disaster


August 06, 2013

GAZA – Hamas movement warned on Tuesday of a grave humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip as a result of the continued blockade.

The movement said in a statement on Tuesday that the tightened measures at the Rafah border terminal (with Egypt) and the destruction of tunnels and the limited entry of goods via the Israeli-controlled Karm Abu Salem all point to an imminent humanitarian tragedy.

It said that such conditions herald an economic collapse and are designed to pressure Gaza into giving up resistance and endorsing negotiations that are meant to liquidate the Palestine cause.

Hamas warned of conducting such measures under flimsy security pretexts, adding that it had proven with documents that such pretexts were nothing but a suspicious media campaign aimed at securing political goals that are harmful to the Palestinian question.

Hamas affirmed, in conclusion, that the Palestinian people despite the pains would confront and foil all such goals.

Egypt Tightens Gaza Restrictions

By Ibrahim Barzak and Mohammed Daragmeh, AP/Huffington Post
July 24, 2013

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Egypt’s new government has imposed the toughest border restrictions on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in years, sealing smuggling tunnels, blocking most passenger traffic and causing millions of dollars in economic losses.

Some in Hamas fear the movement is being swept up in the same Egyptian military campaign that earlier this month toppled the country’s democratically elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi – like the Gaza rulers part of the region’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt’s military has said the Gaza restrictions are part of its security crackdown in the Sinai Peninsula and has not suggested it is trying to weaken the Hamas government or bring it down in the process.

Past predications that Gazans fed up with the daily hardships of life under blockade will rise up against Hamas have not materialized.

However, the new Gaza border restrictions are tougher than any enforced by Morsi’s pro-Western predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, a foe of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Gaza residents and Hamas officials.

And an ongoing border closure is bound to further weaken Hamas’ popularity in Gaza, as the economy takes a new hit and Gazans are once again unable to travel.

“It’s getting worse every day,” Gaza City taxi driver Khaled Jaradeh said of the shortage of cheap Egyptian fuel caused by the closure. Jaradeh was waiting in a slow-moving line outside a gas station, with about 30 cars in front of him.

“Even when Mubarak was president, we used to get fuel through the tunnels,” Jaradeh said.

At the time of Morsi’s ouster, some officials in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, Hamas’ main rival, privately expressed hope that the Hamas government would be next.

Hamas leaders have been careful not to criticize Egypt’s border clampdown in public, for fear of being accused of meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs. However, Gaza’s top Hamas official, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, has complained that Egyptian media reports “about Hamas interference in the Egyptian affairs in support of President Morsi are not true.”

Some Egyptian media outlets have described Hamas as a troublemaker aiding Muslim militants in Egypt’s lawless Sinai, next to Gaza. Morsi is believed to have held back on security clampdowns for fear of angering more radical supporters.

Speaking privately, a senior Hamas official who frequently deals with the Egyptian authorities stopped short of saying Egypt’s military is intentionally trying to weaken Hamas rule in Gaza through the new restrictions. However, he said he views the Gaza clampdown as part of an attempt by the Egyptian army to justify its continued campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Authorities in Egypt moved quickly against the Brotherhood after Morsi’s July 3 ouster. They arrested several of the group’s leaders, and have kept Morsi incommunicado at an undisclosed location. Sinai militants have taken advantage of the turmoil and launched daily attacks against Egyptian security forces, killing more than a dozen soldiers and policemen this month alone.

The clampdown and the Sinai violence are only intensifying.

On Wednesday, Egypt’s military chief called on his countrymen to hold mass demonstrations later this week to voice their support for the army. And in four new Sinai attacks, suspected militants killed two soldiers and wounded three others.

Gaza has endured varying degrees of Israeli and Egyptian border closures since 2006, when the Islamic militant Hamas first came to power in Palestinian parliament elections. The blockade was tightened a year later, after Hamas overran Gaza and assumed sole control, defeating forces loyal to Abbas, whose authority is now confined to the West Bank.

After Morsi was elected Egypt’s president last year, he eased some of the border restrictions, though he did not open Gaza’s only gate to the world as wide as Hamas had hoped.

Still, during Morsi’s yearlong rule, cheap fuel and building materials from Egypt flowed relatively freely via the Sinai through border smuggling tunnels into Gaza, bypassing Israeli restrictions on certain imports to the territory. Aboveground, most Gazans were able to cross into Egypt after years of strict travel restrictions.

All that changed when the Egyptian military deposed Morsi after millions took the streets in protest against the president and his Brotherhood backers.

Since his ouster, only those with foreign passports and medical patients have been allowed to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing, reducing the number of daily passengers from about 1,000 to 150. Gaza border official Maher Abu Sabha said there is a growing backlog, with about 10,000 passengers having signed up so far in July to leave Gaza and only a fraction actually getting out.

Egypt’s security forces have also clamped down on the tunnels, which along with consumer goods also bring weapons to Hamas and allow militants to move between Gaza and the Sinai. Three times this month, an Egyptian military helicopter has flown over southern Gaza, a rare event meant as a warning to Hamas to prevent the movement of militants.

An Egyptian intelligence official who often meets with Israeli counterparts told The Associated Press that several weeks before his ouster, Morsi ordered the army to stop storming homes on the Gaza border suspected of operating tunnels.

The order was made shortly after Morsi held a round table with tribal leaders from northern Sinai and security officers at the presidential palace, according to the official. The official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to release the information to reporters, said military leaders were unhappy with the decision, saying Hamas used the smuggling routes to buy and sell weapons.

During Morsi’s year in office, security forces flooded dozens of tunnels with sewage water.

Robert Serry, the United Nations’ Mideast envoy, told the Security Council on Tuesday that Egypt has taken “robust measures” against the tunnels and that he believes 80 percent no longer function.

A tunnel smuggler said little merchandise gets through. “We are under enormous pressure, with strict security conditions,” he said on condition of anonymity because of his illicit business. “Only few tunnels are still working, and we can’t meet the demand of the market.”

Samir Fares, 64, who lives on the Egyptian side of the Gaza border, confirmed that the Egyptian military has destroyed many tunnels and only a few are still operating. He said the smuggling of building materials has virtually stopped.

For Gaza’s vulnerable economy, hit by years of closures, the sharp drop in cheap fuel and cement from Egypt is most damaging. Gaza Deputy Economics Minister Hatem Awaida said the economy has lost about $235 million as a result of the new closures. This likely includes a direct loss to the Hamas treasury – millions of dollars in taxes normally imposed on tunnel goods.

Fuel imported from Israel is still available but is twice as expensive and finds few takers. When Egyptian fuel on occasion still reaches Gaza, motorists line up at gas stations selling the smuggled shipment.

Mohammed Masoud, manager of a taxi station in Gaza City, said only 10 of his 20 cars are working at any given time. He said he can’t buy the expensive Israeli fuel because that would require him to raise prices, a move banned by the government. “When our customers call for a taxi, we ask them to expect a delay because of the ongoing fuel crisis,” he said.

In Egypt, newspapers – many known for their anti-Morsi stance – are full of talk about Hamas. They repeatedly carry poorly sourced reports of Hamas’ alleged involvement in Egypt’s affairs.

Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram newspaper raised eyebrows with a front-page article this week that claimed Morsi would be detained on a number of charges, including phoning Hamas leaders days before his ouster to alert them to prepare attacks in northern Sinai against the military and police. Egypt’s top prosecutor dismissed the article as unfounded, and the paper’s editor-in-chief was questioned by prosecutors.

The steady campaign against Palestinians by some of Egypt’s state-owned and liberal media intensified after authorities said Palestinians, along with Syrians, were detained in violent pro-Morsi protests in recent weeks. No further details were given.

TV talk shows have also fueled the anti-Palestinian rhetoric. A guest on one claimed that Morsi is of Palestinian origin, while another said it would soon provide proof that Hamas was behind a Sinai attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers last year.

It’s not clear how long the Egyptian clampdown on Gaza will continue, though in Egypt’s current climate it appears unlikely the restrictions will be eased anytime soon.

Gazan suffering treated as side show to Egyptian ‘main stage act’

No matter who is president or which party rules in Egypt, the Palestinians of Gaza pay the price when turmoil reins.

By Pam Bailey, Al Jazeera
July 19, 2013

It unfortunately has become a truism that when Egypt sneezes, Gaza catches a cold. Fearful of the “terrorist elements” automatically associated with Hamas, the governing party in Gaza, neighbouring Egypt is quick to shut what amounts to “prison gates” at the first sign of turmoil either inside or outside the densely populated strip. Israel keeps its own crossings into Gaza on permanent lock-down, with permitted traffic a bare trickle, while also prohibiting travel by air and sea.

The current unrest in Egypt is no exception. As the world sits on the edge of its seat, polarised in its debate about whether the ouster of Mohammed Morsi was really a coup and what will happen next, the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza are paying the price.

On July 5, just two days after forcing Morsi from his post as president, the Egyptian military closed the Rafah crossing into Gaza for six consecutive days. Thousands of Palestinians attempting to enter Gaza to be with their families, or travel out of Gaza for medical care or study, were stranded – often with no money or shelter. Some who were travelling home were detained upon arrival at the Cairo airport and then deported to the countries they had left, at their own expense.

Yousef Aljamal, for instance, was deported to Malaysia, even though that country had merely been an interim stop on his way home from a conference in New Zealand. Fortunately, Malaysia’s Palestinian solidarity community has welcomed Yousef, finding him a temporary place to stay and helping to relieve his sadness of being apart from his family during the holy holiday of Ramadan.

When the numbers of Palestinians stranded at the Cairo airport became overwhelming, the Egyptian authorities instructed international authorities to prohibit individuals with Palestinian passports from boarding flights bound for Cairo. In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for instance, about a thousand pilgrims have been unable to return home.

Mariam Ashour Perova, who has been studying in the United States, longed to visit her family after an absence of five years. However, when she changed flights in Belgium en route to Egypt and showed her Palestinian ID, the agent at the gate asked if she had any other passport she could show. Luckily, Perova has dual Russian citizenship, and she was able to continue her fight. The agent advised her to hide her Palestinian ID. “I didn’t want to do it,” Perova said from Gaza. “But I wanted to see my family so badly.”

In response to a rising outcry from the affected families and their supporters, Egypt finally re-opened the Rafah crossing on July 10 on a limited basis. However, it has been far from sufficient. On July 10 , for instance, only about 400 persons needing documented medical care, holders of foreign passports and Egyptians were allowed to leave Gaza. On the other side of the border, only about 1,200 stranded Palestinians were allowed to return. Contrast that with a backlog of would-be travellers estimated to be “in the tens of thousands”. Meanwhile, the ban on Palestinian air travel into Egypt remains.

Destruction of tunnels causing severe fuel shortages

Meanwhile, Palestinians are suffering in other ways as well. Even before anti-Morsi protests broke out on June 30, Egypt had intensified its destruction of the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, tunnels that Gazans rely on for a majority of their fuel and construction materials. This resulted in severe shortages as well as steep price hikes. Although fuel is available from Israel, it is too expensive for the average resident of Gaza. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights , the majority of gas stations have been forced to close. Iyad al-Qatarawi, public relations manager for the Environmental Quality Authority in Gaza, told Al-Monitor on July 8 that the fuel crisis threatens to shut down the 190 oil wells (which need electricity to pump) that serve most of the citizens of Gaza, as well as 57 stations for collecting and disposing of sewage. A spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza added that only 20 per cent of its gas reserves remain.

“Ramadan is for worshipping, but in Gaza thousands are waiting in gas stations to fill their taxis, trucks and tuck-tucks [three-wheel motorcycles],” wrote journalist Mohammed Omer on Facebook. “This is also a form of worship under unbearable sun.”

Egypt has not only restricted land access, but sea access as well. On July 8, the Egyptian navy for the first time reportedly opened fire at a Gazan fishing boat, warning it away from Egyptian waters. Until then, it was Israel alone that prevented Palestinians in Gaza from venturing far enough out to get a catch decent enough to make a living.

Palestinians accused of fomenting rebellion

Former general Sameh Seif Elyazal whose rhetoric about Palestinian involvement in pro-Morsi fighting has inflamed Egyptian opinion. See item 2 for Hamas denials.

What is the rationale for this crackdown on Gaza? Although no credible evidence has been revealed, Egyptian media are rife with rumours accusing Hamas of sending in operatives to support the deposed Muslim Brotherhood government – including several armed attacks on Egyptian soldiers and checkpoints in the Sinai. On July 13, Daily News Egypt reported that after armed assailants attacked security checkpoints in the Northern Sinai, three Palestinian suspects were apprehended, who ” provided the police with important information during interrogation”. Given the track record of Egyptian security, that statement conjures up images of torture. In response, the publication said, ” a warplane dropped flyers over the residents of Al-Arish (a small seaside town) reading: ‘To the honourable people of Sinai, this is your armed forces. Be assured… we are here to protect you, so please do not allow any person who does not belong to this pure land to attack us.'”

The people who are accused of not “belonging to this pure land,” are – as usual – the Palestinians, whose families were forced from their ancestral lands to become refugees no one seems to want.

Egyptian public opinion has followed a predictable trajectory, shaped in large part by rhetoric such as the words of Sameh Seif Elyazal, a former Egyptian general. On the Al-Tahrir channel, Elyazal reportedly claimed that “Egyptian law will punish, with sentences that could reach 25 years in jail, the Palestinians and Syrians and Iraqis who have made calls for incitement to violence at the demonstrations at Rabaa Al-Adawiya (the site of the army’s recent shooting of as many as 51 pro-Morsi demonstrators) in return for money.”

The general’s allegations echoed a government prosecutor’s assertion that “elements from the Muslim Brotherhood” were recruiting Palestinians and Syrians to attack pro-army demonstrators. The prosecutor also accused a Palestinian leader of handing out shotguns and cash payments to fellow Palestinians in Cairo, dispatching them to pro-Morsi demonstrations to attack opponents. These claim, however, were not independently verifiable.

In some opinion polls , Egyptians are now saying Hamas – and by extension, Palestinians – “have transformed from being a ‘thorn in Israel’s side’ into being one in Egypt’s side”.

The tragic irony in this case is that although they are accused of fomenting unrest in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinians in Gaza didn’t fare significantly better under the Mohammed Morsi administration than they did under Hosni Mubarak. Although clearly more sympathetic, Morsi was under great pressure from the United States and others to maintain Egypt’s treaty with Israel and thus stability in the region. It is clear that even under Morsi, the military maintained its long-standing control of the balance of power .

For example, in May (under Morsi’s watch), Egyptian police – enraged by the kidnapping of seven colleagues by unidentified militants – closed Rafah crossing for five days in response, stranding hundreds of Palestinian travellers on both sides. The closure caused the death of Ghazza al-Khawaldi from Khan Younis , who needed medical treatment abroad that she couldn’t get in Gaza. Weeks later, the Egyptians’ launched the tunnel destruction campaign.

According to Palestinian officials , the Rafah crossing terminal has been frequently closed over the last year, with Egyptian authorities turning back two to three busloads of travellers almost daily. No matter who is in power at the time, the collective punishment of the entire Gazan population in retaliation for the actions – or mere suspicions – of a few is an ongoing pattern, a knee-jerk reaction to turmoil.

Meanwhile, the world looks the other way, as if the suffering of 1.7 million is a mere side show to the “main stage act.”

Pam Bailey is a freelance journalist and activist who has lived and worked in the Gaza Strip.

24 Egyptian Policeman Killed In Deadliest Sinai Peninsula Attack In Years

By AFP/Business Insider
August 19, 2013

Militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at two buses packed with Egyptian policemen in Sinai, killing 24 in the deadliest attack of its kind in years, medical and security sources said.

At least two others were injured when the unknown militants fired on the buses as they headed towards the town of Rafah on the border with the Palestinian Gaza Strip, on Monday.

The attack was the deadliest in the Sinai in years, exceeding the toll from an August 2012 attack on Egyptian soldiers that killed 16.

The security situation in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders both Gaza and Israel, has deteriorated since 2011, when president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.

But it has become significantly worse since the army ousted president Mohamed Morsi on July 3, with near daily attacks by militants targeting police and military installations.

According to an AFP tally, at least 49 security officials have been killed in Sinai since July 5th — 28 police and 21 soldiers — not including those in the latest attack.

Egypt has deployed additional forces to Sinai, which is mostly desert and inhabited by Bedouin tribes that have been accused of cooperating with Islamist militants.

The army says it has killed nearly 70 “terrorists” in the region since July 3.

The violence comes as Egypt wrestles with a deep political crisis and bloodshed that has left hundreds of people dead in days of clashes between Islamist protesters and security forces.

Egypt closed its Rafah border crossing in Sinai with the Palestinian Gaza Strip on Monday after a deadly attack nearby that killed 24 policeman, a border official told AFP.

Last week, Egypt said it would close the crossing indefinitely, but it was partially reopened on Saturday, according to the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza.

The decision to close the crossing, which is the only way most Palestinians in Gaza can leave the territory, comes after 24 Egyptian police were killed in an attack nearby.

Militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at two buses packed with Egyptian policemen in Sinai, killing 24 in the deadliest attack of its kind in years, medical and security sources said.

At least two others were injured when the unknown militants fired on the buses as they headed towards the town of Rafah on the border with the Palestinian Gaza Strip, on Monday.

The attack was the deadliest in the Sinai in years, exceeding the toll from an August 2012 attack on Egyptian soldiers that killed 16.

The security situation in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders both Gaza and Israel, has deteriorated since 2011, when president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.

But it has become significantly worse since the army ousted president Mohamed Morsi on July 3, with near daily attacks by militants targeting police and military installations.

According to an AFP tally, at least 49 security officials have been killed in Sinai since July 5th — 28 police and 21 soldiers — not including those in the latest attack.

Egypt has deployed additional forces to Sinai, which is mostly desert and inhabited by Bedouin tribes that have been accused of cooperating with Islamist militants.

The army says it has killed nearly 70 “terrorists” in the region since July 3.

The violence comes as Egypt wrestles with a deep political crisis and bloodshed that has left hundreds of people dead in days of clashes between Islamist protesters and security forces.

Egypt closed its Rafah border crossing in Sinai with the Palestinian Gaza Strip on Monday after a deadly attack nearby that killed 24 policeman, a border official told AFP.

Last week, Egypt said it would close the crossing indefinitely, but it was partially reopened on Saturday, according to the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza.

The decision to close the crossing, which is the only way most Palestinians in Gaza can leave the territory, comes after 24 Egyptian police were killed in an attack nearby.

See also:
Hamas the big loser in Egyptian army take-over
Abu Zuhri: Arabi’s remarks proved innocence of Hamas August 4th. 2-13, pic

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