Egypt grills Arabs who entered Gaza

Some 2,000 foreigners reportedly entered Strip to fight against Israel before returning to Sinai.

gaza rafah border 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
gaza rafah border 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Egyptian authorities have begun questioning hundreds of foreign Arabs who entered the Gaza Strip after the border was breached by Hamas supporters three weeks ago, and then returned to Sinai. Some 2,000 foreigners, mostly Egyptians, are believed to have entered Gaza. According to sources close to Hamas, many of them came to volunteer to fight against Israel. The armed groups in the Strip told them they already had enough volunteers. "The Egyptian authorities are currently interrogating many of those who visited the Gaza Strip and have returned to Egypt," an Egyptian diplomat told The Jerusalem Post. He said the questioning was a "routine" practice to ensure that those who entered the Gaza Strip were not planning to harm Egypt's national security. The diplomat said that Egypt had detained over the past three days another 220 Gazans who were hiding in el-Arish. He noted that altogether some 800 Palestinians have been detained since the border was opened on January 23. "After the interrogation is over, they will be deported back to the Gaza Strip," he said. Hamas officials in Gaza expressed deep concern over growing tensions between their movement and Egypt in the wake of the border crisis. However, the officials said they were confident that the crisis with Egypt would be resolved in the coming days. "Yes, there's a serious crisis in our relations with Egypt, but we believe that we can resolve the problem through dialogue, not threats," said a senior Hamas official. Hamas's relations with Jordan have also been strained following allegations that Hamas's security forces confiscated 16 Jordanian trucks loaded with food and medicine in the Gaza Strip. Hamas admitted that it had seized the trucks, saying it did so because the humanitarian aide was being distributed only to Fatah loyalists. Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk said on Saturday he did not rule out the possibility of West Bank Palestinians breaching the border fence and entering Israel or Jordan. The Damascus-based deputy political leader of Hamas said in an interview with a Qatari newspaper, "All the options are open. There is a need for a pronounced sense that the Palestinian people are able to express honestly any policy that will serve them and remove the blockade imposed on them." Abu Marzouk added that the Palestinian people would not leave their land. Hamas leaders haven't reached agreement with Egypt over who should control the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Sinai, he said. Marzouk said Hamas would not relinquish control over the Gaza border crossings, even to the Palestinian Authority. On Friday, Egypt boosted security along its border with Gaza, an official said, following an alleged threat by Hamas to kidnap Egyptian troops if 15 Hamas members arrested last week in Sinai were not released. Snipers were deployed on rooftops in the Egyptian part of the divided border town of Rafah, and Egyptian forces were told to move only in armed groups of at least three soldiers, the security official said. But a Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, promptly denied any kidnapping threats against Egyptian troops and reiterated that Hamas was fighting the Israelis, not the Egyptians. "This is a lie," Abu Zuhri told The Associated Press in Gaza. "It's not true at all. People are spreading these rumors to incite against Hamas." AP contributed to this report