Cairo bans trade to prevent Gaza breach

Hundreds of merchants pour into Sinai after Hamas threatens to breach wall, repeat shopping spree.

Rafah broken wall 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Rafah broken wall 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Following Hamas's threat to once again breach the border with Egypt, Cairo has banned Egyptian merchants from bringing truckloads of merchandise to El-Arish and other towns in Sinai. By blocking the supplies, the Egyptians are hoping to prevent a repeat of the January 23 fiasco, which saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians pour into Egypt to go on an unprecedented 12-day shopping spree. Sources in the Gaza Strip said the Egyptian authorities had limited fuel and food supplies to several areas in Sinai. Hundreds of merchants have made their way to Sinai in the past few days in anticipation of another breach of the Gaza border. Financial experts estimate that the Palestinians spent at least $250 million the last time they poured into Sinai. Cairo has also issued a stern warning to Hamas against breaking through the border. Egyptian security officials are reported to have warned the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip that the movement would "pay a heavy price" if it allowed Palestinians to penetrate the frontier. A government official in Cairo said his government would not allow Hamas to "export" its problems to Egypt. "If Hamas has a problem with the blockade, why don't they breach the border with Israel?" he asked. "We will take drastic measures against anyone who harms our national security." The latest Egyptian security measures come amid increased tensions between Cairo and Hamas. Several Hamas leaders have accused Egypt of participating in the blockade of Gaza by refusing to open the Rafah border crossing between the Strip and Gaza. Hamas has also accused the Egyptian security forces of brutally torturing many of its members who were detained after entering Sinai. Muhammad Awwad, secretary-general of the Hamas government in Gaza, hinted over the weekend that Palestinians were close to breaching the border with Egypt once again. "The Palestinian resistance, which is part of the Palestinian people, is capable of moving in different directions to break the siege [on the Gaza Strip]," he said. "We are holding high-level contacts with Arab and Islamic countries to end the unjust siege." Osama Hamdan, Hamas's representative in Lebanon, said his movement was not threatening the national security of Egypt or any other Arab country. "Our brothers in Egypt know very well that we are not trying to harm their national security," he said. "They also know that Hamas does not serve the agenda of any external powers." Taher a-Nunu, spokesman for the Hamas government, said an "explosion" was expected any moment because of the blockade. "No one is threatening Egypt, but our people have the right to defend themselves against the unjust siege," he said, urging Egypt and the rest of the Arab countries to help the Palestinians.