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Who stole the shoes of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh while he was attending Friday prayers in Gaza City?
This is the question that Hamas's security apparatus has been trying to answer since last Friday.
The incident has embarrassed Hamas, whose leaders tried on Sunday to play down the case by claiming that the theft was the work of a child.
Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip accused Fatah leaders in Ramallah of exploiting the incident to defame Haniyeh.
The shoes were stolen after Haniyeh and his entourage arrived at a mosque in Gaza City for Friday prayers. Ever since he was appointed prime minister, Haniyeh has been delivering Friday sermons in various mosques in the Gaza Strip.
In line with Islamic tradition, worshipers are required to take off their shoes upon entering mosques.
Following the prayer, Haniyeh discovered that his shoes were missing. His nervous bodyguard immediately began searching for the missing shoes and all worshipers were required to remain inside the mosque until the search was over.
"It was a very embarrassing situation," said a Palestinian journalist who was present at the scene. "Hamas sent reinforcements to the area and a frantic search for the shoes began."
The shoes were discovered minutes later in the possession of a Palestinian child who admitted that he had stolen them, a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post.
"The kid did not even know that the shoes belonged to the prime minister," he said. "He saw shining and neat shoes and decided to take them."
According to the official, the boy was released immediately without punishment. "We didn't take the case seriously because this is not the first time children have stolen shoes of worshipers during the prayers," he said.
Asked if Haniyeh's shoes were expensive, the official said: "These are cheap shoes made in Egypt. I don't think the boy stole them because they looked expensive. He simply saw neat shoes and decided to take them. Haniyeh does not wear Armani suits and Italian-made shoes."
Another Hamas official told the Post he did not rule out the possibility that Fatah activists were behind the theft.
"These Fatah people are doing their utmost to discredit Hamas," he said. "It's possible that the boy was sent by some Fatah activists to steal the shoes to embarrass Hamas. But for us this is not a big issue and we have nothing to hide. Haniyeh's shoes were stolen while he was praying inside a mosque and not while he was swimming on the beach of Tel Aviv or eating in a fancy restaurant with Condoleezza Rice."
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