CAIRO (AP) â€” Egypt on Tuesday accused Palestinians of helping finance and train members of an Egyptian militant group that carried out a string of bombings at Sinai tourist resorts, the first direct link it has made between the terror attacks and the stormy Gaza Strip.
The accusations could fuel Israeli and Palestinian claims that Al Qaeda militants have infiltrated the Palestinian territories.
But they could also further add to the troubles of the militant group Hamas, which leads the Palestinian government and is struggling with international isolation. The Egyptian claim comes on the heels of Jordan’s announcement last week that it arrested Hamas activists plotting attacks in the Kingdom, an accusation Hamas denied.
The Egyptian claim made no mention of either Al Qaeda or Hamas and did not say if the Palestinians who helped the Egyptian militants belonged to any organisation.
In a statement, the interior ministry said Palestinians helped the Egyptian militant group that carry out a bombings last month at the Sinai resort of Dahab that killed 21 people.
It said three brothers who belong to the Egyptian group â€œmade contacts with some fundamentalist Palestinian elementsâ€ before the attack and two of them â€” Ayman and Yousri Muhareb â€” went to the Palestinian territories. There, Yousri received training in making explosives and the use of weapons from a Palestinian identified as Maged Deri, the ministry said. Another Palestinian, identified only as Abu Suleiman, gave Yousri $1,000 and a cellphone, then later entered Egypt and gave $500 to the third brother, Mounir Muhareb.
The ministry said Yousri Muhareb, who has been arrested by Egyptian security forces, confessed that he â€œreceived congratulations from these Palestinian elements after carrying out the [Dahab] attacks.â€ Mounir Muhareb was killed in clashes on May 1, the statement said, without giving the whereabouts of Ayman Muhareb.
Egypt has said the Dahab bombing was carried out by a militant group calling itself Monotheism and Jihad that also was behind two other attacks against Sinai resorts: an October 2004 bombing in Taba that killed 34 people and a July attack in Sharm El Sheikh that killed 64.
The purported leader of Monotheism and Jihad, Nasser Khamis Mallahi, was killed earlier this month in a gunbattle with security forces.
Besides the three brothers who contacted the Palestinians, Mallahi had tried to send the three suicide bombers who carried out the Dahab attacks to Gaza for training, the interior ministry said Tuesday.
A third Palestinian, Tamer Nasserat, expressed readiness to take part in attacks in Egypt and Mallahi planned to use Nasserat’s expertise in making explosives, the ministry said, without elaborating.
A spokesman for the Hamas-led Palestinian government, Ghazi Hamad, said the government was â€œstill waiting for more detailsâ€ on the Egyptian accusations.
But he underlined that Hamas condemned the Dahab bombings when they occurred.
Hamas is under intense international pressure to moderate its stances and recognise Israel.
Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel, has joined that pressure â€” and has its own worries that Hamas’ new political power could fuel militancy or empower Islamists on its soil.
The Egyptian announcement â€œcould be an attempt to embarrass Hamas or pressure it,â€ Egyptian expert on Islamic groups Amr Choubaki said, though he doubted Cairo would outright accuse Hamas because it seeks to preserve its role as a mediator among Palestinian groups.
Hamas has always said it will only carry out attacks on Israel â€” though it has abided by a ceasefire for more than a year.
Palestinian political analyst Talal Okal said Egypt’s claims support the theory that Al Qaeda operatives may have infiltrated Gaza and Sinai.
â€œSinai is a vast place and the Egyptian borders with Gaza and Israel are long and allow for movement and trainingâ€ of Al Qaeda elements.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said Al Qaeda was trying to recruit Palestinians, and Israel has also linked Palestinians with the terror network. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh denied Al Qaeda militants have infiltrated Palestinian territories.
In the past, Egypt has spoken vaguely of ties between the bombings and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Fearful of hurting its tourism industry, Egypt has painstakingly tried to paint the attacks as the work of a local group and rule out an Al Qaeda involvement.