Hamas is prepared to close all the tunnels under the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt if the Egyptians agree to reopen the Rafah border crossing on a permanent basis, Hamas officials announced on Sunday.
“The tunnels are a necessary popular method to break the criminal blockade on the Gaza Strip,” Salah Bardaweel, a Hamas legislator and spokesman, told reporters.
He said the tunnels were needed “to consolidate the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and their resistance against occupation, which is working to Judaize the holy sites and is killing children, women and ill people.”
On Saturday, the Palestinian Authority called on Cairo to destroy the tunnels, saying they posed a threat to Egyptian security and damaged chances of achieving Palestinian unity.
Bardaweel said that a “civilized alternative” to the tunnels would be the opening of the Rafah terminal to goods and passengers.
“We are confident that the Egyptian leadership would work toward creating this alternative and we hope that the border crossing would not be closed for too long,” Bardaweel added.
He pointed out that Muslims were now observing Ramadan and would soon celebrate Id al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the 30-day fast.
The Hamas official reiterated the claim that Israel was behind last week’s terrorist attack in Sinai, in which unidentified men killed 16 Egyptian border guards.
“The attack serves the higher interest of Israeli occupation,” Bardaweel said. “There is a lot of theoretical and practical evidence to back this up. The Zionist enemy has been seeking to undermine Egyptian security and embarrass the Egyptian leadership, which it believes is hostile to the aggressive Zionist project.”
Bardaweel accused Israel of seeking to drive a wedge between Egypt and Hamas in light of improved relations between the two sides and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s recent visit to Cairo, “where he was welcomed as the legitimate prime minister of the Palestinian government.”
Bardaweel also accused the PA of spreading lies in an attempt to implicate Hamas and the Gaza Strip following the Sinai attack.
He said the Egyptians had not notified Hamas about the possible involvement of any Palestinian from the Gaza Strip in the attack.
Hamas is prepared to work together with the Egyptian authorities to reveal the identity of the perpetrators, he added. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar expressed his government’s readiness to destroy the tunnels once the Rafah border crossing was reopened. He called for setting up a free trade zone between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
Zahar told the Saudiowned Al-Arabiya TV station that the closure of the tunnels would be in the context of Hamas’s efforts to help the Egyptians. He too strongly denied Hamas involvement in the Sinai attack. He said that those who carried out the attack were acting on orders of Israel in a bid to frame Hamas.
“Why should Hamas, for the first time ever, carry out an attack outside Palestine?” Zahar asked. “And even if Hamas wanted to strike against targets outside Palestine, why should it attack the Egyptian brothers? Is it religiously permissible to kill a fasting person while he’s having his [breakfast] meal?”