Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Mystery abduction

Claims that Egyptian intelligence was behind the kidnapping of four Palestinians in Sinai are groundless, writes Ahmed Eleiba

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The kidnapping of four Palestinians from Gaza, abducted while travelling on a bus in Sinai, is still being investigated by Egyptian security agencies.

The abductees, members of the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, were on their way to Turkey.

The four men had just crossed into Egypt at Rafah and boarded a bus that was to take them to Cairo airport. Shortly after the bus left Rafah — some reports say it had barely travelled 300 metres from the border gateway, others claim it had covered five kilometres — several gunmen forced the bus to stop, dragged out the four Palestinians and took them to an unknown destination.

The first reaction of the Al-Qassam Brigades was to accuse Egyptian intelligence of planning the kidnapping, claiming Israeli is the sole beneficiary of an operation that occurred against a backdrop of increased Egyptian-Israeli cooperation over Sinai.

Following a meeting between the Hamas government’s Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and the families of the kidnapped Palestinians, Haniyeh declared: “We hold the Egyptian authorities fully responsible for the lives of the four men. We call on them to act quickly to secure the release of the four and exercise their security responsibilities without any form of escalation in the media or in the field so as to safeguard Palestinian-Egyptian relations...”

In Cairo, sources involved in the case say the accusations are unfounded. The authorities have initiated an intensive investigation that began with the combing of the border area where the incident occurred. The sources stress this is the first incident of its kind and concerned agencies are determined to get to the bottom of the incident and locate the missing persons.

An informed source in Gaza who agreed to be identified by the initials MAA warns there is likely to be some form of escalation in tensions if no information about the abductees is forthcoming. The incident has triggered considerable confusion among Hamas and other Palestinian factions, he says.

While Al-Qassam Brigade officials continue to insist that Egypt masterminded the operation, MAA points to an alternative possible scenario.

“I think the kidnapped were on their way to carry out an operation abroad. One scenario is that they were kidnapped by an agency that was aware of this operation and wanted to halt it, perhaps using mercenaries in the Sinai.”

According to the same source Hamas official Khalil Al-Haya had been in contact with Egyptian intelligence in the hope of arranging a visit by a Hamas delegation, led by Haniyeh, to Cairo to meet with Egyptian security officials before the kidnapping. Cairo had not responded to this overture when the kidnapping occurred.

He adds that after visiting Cairo Hamas leaders had intended to travel to Qatar and then Turkey as part of a drive to build up pressure to alleviate the blockade on Gaza for which the Palestinian public increasingly holds Hamas responsible. The initiative was conceived after Hamas officials abroad, led by Khaled Mashaal, failed to persuade Saudi King Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz to press Egypt to comply with their wishes. The Mashaal delegation “discovered that the Muslim Brothers and Hamas are not of such a degree of priority to the Saudis at present,” says the source.

In a related development, a security source said that Rashed Hamed Hussein or Rashed Abul-Qassem, commander of the military wing of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, was killed during an aerial bombardment targeting terrorist elements in Rafah. This took place in the course of a routine combing operation. Abul-Qassem, a member of the Al-Rishat tribe, was killed along with several other Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis members, said the source.

Although the body was badly burned it was identified by other members of the tribe.

The death of Abul-Qassem comes three months after his deputy Kamal Allam Hifni, was killed during an offensive launched by the Armed Forces in retaliation for attacks against security checkpoints.

Though Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis is structured in such a way as to permit for the immediate replacement of a field commander who has been killed “the death still affects the morale of other members of the organisation,” says Ali Bakr, a researcher on Islamist movements.

“The debilitating blows the organisation has sustained in Sinai has left it seriously depleted. The military command of the organisation, many of whom have been killed, constitute its core.”

In recent months there has been a marked decline in attacks launched by Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. This is an indication of the success of security strikes against the organisation, says Ahmed Kamel, a researcher for the Security Studies Unit at the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies and editor of the Cairo Index periodical, which monitors the security conditions in Egypt.

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