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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Egypt closing up smuggling tunnels, Hamas angry

In reaction to the deadly attack killing 16 Egyptian soldiers on Sunday, the Egyptian government has sent many bulldozers and other large earth-moving machines to close smuggling tunnels going to Gaza, starting with those that are far away from residential areas.

Sinai residents have reported to Ahram Online that heavy machinery of the state-owned Arab Contractors company is being used to destroy tunnels linking Egypt and the besieged Gaza Strip. The destruction of the tunnels is happening under the supervision of Egyptian military forces.

Hamas leader Mahmoud El-Zahar confirmed that the Egyptian military was closing the tunnels and would abort any attempt to build new ones.
Hamas, which was looking forward to Mohamed Morsi add a commercial crossing in Rafah, is upset that he is doing the opposite. Hamas denies that any Gazans were involved in the attack and is calling Egypt's moves "collective punishment."

Opportunistic traders doubled the prices of some smuggled goods within hours of Egypt's starting to close the tunnels. Diesel fuel and construction materials are being affected. Also, medical patients who had been crossing Rafah for treatment are being denied passage.

Hamas is already going on a media offensive about what a hardship this is causing Gazans, as it has in the past to pressure Egypt to increase the amount of electricity it sends to Gaza and to try to get them to open a fuel pipeline in Rafah. But this time the residents of the Sinai are the ones who are protesting against any opening of Gaza, and Morsi will have a hard time keeping his promises to Gaza when he has his own people so angry.

Morsi also seems slightly embarrassed that his Muslim Brotherhood has publicly blamed Israel for the attack, when the Egyptian military is saying otherwise and even admitting that Israel passed intelligence about a possible attack to their Egyptian counterparts. Morsi is also dealing with the embarrassment of not attending the funerals of the dead soldiers, which angered many Egyptians.

Not only that, but there are reports that  Morsi is demanding that the Hamas government extradite three suspects in the attack. 

Hamas is putting up a front of caring about the soldiers, declaring three days of mourning and hoping that they can gain the sympathy of Egyptians again. But it must also play to appearances to its people, to Fatah and to the larger Arab world. Those are all incompatible now. And blaming Israel is unlikely to work this time.

Any way you look at it, this attack was a game changer for Egypt's relationship with Gaza.

(It will be interesting to see how human rights organizations will try to pin the blame on Israel for Gaza's new shortages.)