Egypt reinforces Gaza border, sees Iranian ‘threat’

Egypt has reinforced its border with the Gaza Strip and accused Iran of threatening its security after Islamist fighters of Hamas violently seized control of the territory.Fearing an influx of thousands of refugees from the tiny but densely populated coastal strip, dozens of extra police have reinforced the 750 paramilitary troops already guarding the border fence, officials said.

Egypt’s foreign minister accused Iran of having encouraged Hamas to seize Gaza in factional fighting with the secular Fateh movement in which more than 110 people were killed last week.

“Iran’s policies encouraged Hamas to do what it has done in Gaza and this represents a threat for Egypt’s national security because Gaza is a stone’s throw from Egypt,” Ahmed Abul Gheit said comments carried by the Al Masri Al-Yom newspaper on Wednesday.

“The Iranian influence in Iraq also represents a threat for Egyptian and Arab national security. This obliges Cairo to restrict its relations with Tehran,” which were already broken off in 1980, the minister said. Tehran severed ties after its 1979 Islamic revolution in protest at Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and its hosting of the toppled shah. The two countries have since had only interests sections in each other’s capital.

Egypt condemned the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas which drove out security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and announced its support for Abbas’ new Western-backed emergency government in the West Bank.

Cairo has also decided to transfer its diplomatic representation with the Palestinian Authority from Gaza City to the West Bank political capital of Ramallah where Abbas’ new emergency government is based.

Hamas’ routing of Abbas loyalists in Gaza has left the Islamists in complete control of the territory sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, which has for decades struggled to control its own Islamist opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hamas was itself formed by Brotherhood sympathisers in Gaza shortly after the eruption of the first Palestinian uprising in 1987.

The week of bloody clashes that led up to Hamas’ seizure of control last Friday sparked an exodus of about 400 asylum-seekers to Egypt, many of them Abbas loyalists fearful of Islamist reprisals.

Some were assisted to reach the Palestinian president’s stronghold in the West Bank but Egyptian security sources told AFP about 295 remained in two camps in the northern Sinai desert.

Amid fears of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza after Israel closed the borders to normal imports, an official said Egypt would allow essential supplies across its border with the territory if necessary.

Since Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza in 2005, Egyptian border guards have been responsible for securing the border.

Israel charges that Egypt has not done enough to prevent armed groups from smuggling arms and personnel through tunnels under the border wall.

There have also been several breaches of the wall that have seen Palestinians pouring across into Egypt in their hundreds, particularly in the divided frontier town of Rafah.

The Multinational Force and Observers, an independent peacekeeping body deployed in the Sinai Peninsula to monitor the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, has received orders to restrict movement in the area, a Western source told AFP.

Egyptian authorities have no Palestinian counterparts with whom to regulate the border as Cairo refuses to deal with Hamas.

“It’s not Egypt which is blocking this, but those on the other side who have no political or judicial legitimacy,” a senior Egyptian official told AFP.

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