Photo: AP
Egyptian military in Sinai (Archive photo)
Photo: AP

Egypt postpones Israel-Hamas talks due to Sinai attack

Following massive assault on Egyptian army post, President al-Sisi closes Rafah border crossing; Hamas official says Egypt delaying indirect negotiations on Gaza, after Egyptian source claims Palestinians involved in attack.

Egypt announced on Sunday it was postponing indirect talks in Cairo between Hamas and Israel on cementing the Gaza war ceasefire after closing its border with the Palestinian enclave in response to deadly attacks in the Sinai peninsula.



Two attacks on Friday in Sinai, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel, killed at least 33 Egyptian security personnel in some of the worst anti-state violence since former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last year.


Citing "the state of emergency in the border area between Egypt and Gaza" and the closure on Friday of the Rafah crossing, a senior Egyptian diplomat said indirect talks between Israel and Palestinian factions would not resume in the coming week.


No new date for the negotiations was announced.


The talks, focussed on preserving the August 26 truce that ended the 50-day Operation Protective Edge and on opening the borders of the Egyptian and Israeli-blockaded territory, adjourned in late September for Jewish and Muslim holidays.


The ceasefire has been holding. An easing of frontier restrictions is crucial for reconstructing tens of thousands of homes in the Gaza Strip that were damaged or destroyed in the fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants.


Israel wants security arrangements that will ensure such material is not used by Hamas to rebuild cross-border tunnels or to manufacture rockets, whose firing at southern Israel triggered the Israeli offensive.


Palestinian officials say 2,100 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the summer conflict. Israel put its death toll at 67 soldiers and six civilians.


No group has claimed responsibility for Friday's attacks in Sinai. Similar operations have been claimed by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Egypt's most active Sinai-based jihadi group.


Egypt has accused Hamas in the past of aiding Islamist armed groups in Sinai - an allegation denied by the Gaza movement, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.


"We are against the shedding of a drop of Egyptian blood. We wish Egypt security and stability," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.


He said Egypt had informed the group that negotiations would not be held as planned on Monday. An Israeli official said Israel had yet to receive word from Cairo on a postponement.


Egypt has declared a three-month full alert in the North Sinai bordering the Gaza Strip and said a curfew would be imposed in areas where the army is waging a security crackdown against elements suspected of killing hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and policemen in the past year.


Buffer zone

The Egyptian government said it was considering establishing a three-kilometer security zone along its border with the Gaza Strip, after more than 30 soldiers were killed in the deadliest attack on the country's security forces in decades.


Egyptian President al-Sisi (Photo: AFP) (Photo: AFP)
Egyptian President al-Sisi (Photo: AFP)


Samih Bashadi, an interior ministry official, told the Egyptian newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday that Palestinians were involved in the attack and said the solution to the situation in the Sinai Peninsula was the establishment of a buffer zone.


Security and local sources told the Egyptian paper that the Egyptian military decided to launch an extensive offensive against terror cells in northern Sinai that will include the use of Apache combat helicopters.


Over the weekend, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said that the assault on an army checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula that killed 31 troops was a "foreign-funded operation" and vowed to take drastic action against militants.


Earlier on Saturday, the country's National Defense Council declared a three-month state of emergency in areas near the borders with Israel and the Gaza Strip and ordered a three-hour curfew. State TV also announced closure of the Rafah crossing, the only border terminal not controlled by Israel.


In the wake of the attack – and Sisi's accusations of foreign involvement – Hamas has attempted to calm tensions between Egypt and the Strip.


A senior Hamas official, Khalil al-Hayya, sent his condolences to the Egyptian people following the attack and expressed hope that Egypt will return security and stability to the country. He denied sources in the Strip had any connection to the assault on the Egyptian military, saying "we will not permit any person to hurt the security of Egypt."


Al-Hayya noted that he expected ties between Hamas and Egypt to improve in the coming days. "Egypt is the guardian of the Palestinian people."


Meanwhile, security sources told Reuters the army was considering relocating residents to clear a larger buffer zone. Over the weekend, Egypt's council of ministers also proposed a measure, now awaiting Sisi's approval, which would see military courts used to try civilians accused of offences such as blocking roads or attacking public property.


Nimdor Semel and Elior Levy contributed to this report.


פרסום ראשון: 10.26.14, 11:28
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