Sunday, December 11, 2011

11-Dec-11: Now this is interesting. Egypt says the report of Hamas activities in Sinai is baseless

We have a follow-up to our Egypt/Hamas report from this morning. It seems the government of Egypt takes exception to the Jerusalem Post's report about Hamas shifting assets into Egyptian-held Sinai to shelter them from Israeli attack. The story below, published this afternoon (Sunday), appears in the English language, on-line edition of Al-Masry Al-Youm (Egypt Today)
Egypt denies presence of Hamas missile bases in Sinai    An Egyptian official in Sinai has repudiated an Israeli report that Palestinian militant group Hamas has set up a rocket production line in the peninsula. The report, published earlier today by Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post, said that Hamas erected the alleged production line in Sinai because they are certain Israel will not bomb any targets on Egyptian soil due to the potential impact on relations with Cairo... "No one can ever bring in military tools or erect missile bases in Sinai. Egypt would not allow such a breach to its sovereignty," said the Egyptian source, who dismissed the Israeli report as false. The official said that the Sinai area is completely under control, adding that Egypt and Israel have a peace treaty. He also highlighted the existence of UN peacekeeping forces in North Sinai to monitor the borders with Israel, adding that they would not be unaware of any such development... Israel has long complained of weapons smuggling to Hamas through underground tunnels dug from Sinai."
This is pretty much true: Israel has long complained of weapons smuggling to Hamas via tunnels that originate in Sinai - because it's a fact. Injuries and deaths on the Israeli side are due to that smuggling, to those tunnels and to precisely this Egyptian failure to police its border as required by the Israel/Egypt peace treaty. Or as the JPost's Yaakov Katz (he's the author of the original report) tweeted a short time ago: "Egypt denies my story of Hamas Sinai bases, says weapons not allowed. I wonder how they explain 10,000 rockets in Gaza".

And how about the claim that "the Sinai area is completely under control"?

In July 2011, two hundred men attacked the El Arish police station in North Sinai in broad daylight, according to this Egyptian news report. The attackers intended to commandeer and destroy the facility. Four people were killed, 19 injured.

In August 2011, the Christian Science Monitor reported on
"a steady unraveling of Egyptian control over the vast Sinai peninsula since the popular revolt that unseated former President Hosni Mubarak in February. In the ensuing months, there have several attacks on a natural gas line supplying Israel, and there have been reports in the Israeli press citing an uptick in smuggling over the border to Gaza." 
The Chinese newsagency Xinhua put the matter more bluntly four months ago:
"The minimal control over Sinai that Cairo asserted since the signing of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, dropped even further with former President Hosni Mubarak's downfall in February, and the apparent inability or even abdication of responsibility towards policing the peninsula."
To see this in a more concrete way, consider the Arish Ashkelon pipeline. It's 100 kilometres long, built at an investment of $300 million to carry natural gas from the Arab Gas Pipeline to Israel. Starting on 4th February 2011, a series of attacks were carried out on the pipeline, some of them in broad daylight, making a mockery of Egyptian claims to have the area under control. The most recent attack was on 28th November, when the pipeline was exploded for the ninth time this year.

None of this means Hamas did or did not set up facilities under the new Egyptian regime's noses. But it does suggest that when Egyptian officials say "Everything's under control", it's time for Israel to hedge its bets.

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