Wed, Aug 08, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Israel returns bodies of border attackers to Egypt

DEADLY ASSAULT:The Gaza-linked Egypt attack hurt Hamas’ bid to get Cairo to ease restrictions at their shared border crossing, Gaza’s only gate on the world

AFP and AP, JERUSALEM and GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, second left, and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, left, shake hands with a soldier at a checkpoint in al-Arish on Monday.

Photo: Reuters / Egyptian Presidency

Israel has returned the bodies of six gunmen, involved in the killing of 16 Egyptian troops during a raid on both sides of the border, to Egypt, Israeli military sources said yesterday.

The six were sent back overnight Monday, they said.

The Israeli army said in a statement that the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel, Egypt and Gaza, which the attackers breached in Sunday’s raid, was reopened on yesterday morning.

In Sunday’s attack, 35 gunmen in Bedouin clothing opened fire on Egyptian troops before crossing into the Jewish state in an armored vehicle, Egyptian officials said.

Israel said five gunmen were killed on its side, adding that the armored vehicle was destroyed by helicopter fire. Israeli media said that the remains of a sixth man were recovered from an explosive-laden pickup truck that blew up as it tried to negotiate barriers at the border crossing.

The Egyptian army vowed on Monday to “avenge” the killings.

Egypt also closed until further notice its Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip, the only crossing to and from the territory not controlled by Israel.

Sunday’s attack by Islamic militants with purported ties to Gaza spells trouble for the territory’s Hamas rulers.

Hamas had lobbied Egypt’s new president, a fellow member of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, to end Gaza’s five-year-long border blockade by throwing open a shared border crossing that is Gaza’s only gate to the world.

Instead, one of the first steps Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi took after Sunday’s attack was to slam the Gaza border crossing shut indefinitely.

Egypt’s military said the attackers had the help of Palestinian militants, saying “elements from the Gaza Strip” aided them by shelling the Egyptian-Israeli border crossing with mortars as the attack was taking place.

An Egyptian government official charged anonymously that at least some of the attackers came from Gaza, infiltrating through smuggling tunnels under the border.

Hundreds of tunnels run under the 15km Gaza-Egypt border, dug over the years to evade border restrictions and move contraband, including weapons and militants.

Hamas announced it closed the tunnels temporarily following the attack that left 16 Egyptian border troops dead. Morsi pledged that now, Egypt’s military will go after the militants in the Sinai, a move that could reinforce Gaza’s isolation.

After Morsi’s election victory earlier this summer, Hamas had been hopeful that the Gaza border blockade was coming to an end.

In a meeting with Hamas officials from Gaza last month, Morsi appeared sympathetic to their demands to lift restrictions on travel out of Gaza, though he was noncommittal about opening the border to trade as well.

In return, Morsi asked Hamas to crack down on militants moving in and out of Gaza through the tunnels, according to an official close to the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the content of closed-door discussions.

The bloody attack on the border threw the implied agreements into disarray. It also left Hamas in a damage-control mode, with few options beyond pleading for a fair inquiry.

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