GAZA CITY / OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: The militant group Hamas deployed forces Thursday along the Egypt-Gaza border to counter Cairo’s concerns that it is aiding Daesh (ISIS) extremists in Egypt’s lawless Sinai Peninsula.
Meanwhile, Israeli police confirmed that a 19-year-old Palestinian man carried out a bus bombing in occupied Jerusalem this week, as Hamas praised the man as a “martyr” for the attack.
Egypt accuses Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, of providing a safe haven for the Daesh affiliate in Sinai through a network of smuggling tunnels. Hamas denies the charge.
Hamas and a high-ranking Egyptian security official said the deployment is part of an agreement reached with Egyptian officials last month.
“This emphasizes the Palestinian stand to tighten security on the border and nothing that harms Egypt will come out of Gaza,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
The Egyptian security official said the deployment is part of the new deal with Egypt that sees Hamas halt tunnel construction in return for opening the Rafah border crossing, Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
Thursday, armed Hamas men took up positions along the 13-kilometer border, with fighters in pick-up trucks patrolling back and forth.
Relations between Hamas and Egypt soured badly after the 2013 military ouster of Islamist President Mohammad Morsi. Hamas is an offshoot of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Egypt has been battling Daesh militants and in 2014 launched a fierce campaign on the underground tunnels with Gaza, destroying many of them. It has also kept the Rafah crossing largely sealed. Abu Zuhri said he hopes that the deal will lead to the crossing’s reopening.
Meanwhile, Israeli police identified the Jerusalem bus attacker as Abdel Hameed Abu Srour, a resident of the West Bank city of Beit Jala. Police said he was critically wounded in the bombing and died Wednesday night in an Israeli hospital.
About 20 people were injured in the bombing, some seriously, including a teenage girl who suffered severe burns. A hospital spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday one man later died, but did not name him.
In an announcement on one of its websites, Hamas said Abu Srour was a member of the group but stopped short of claiming responsibility for the attack.
Israeli police said they arrested Hamas members a day after the attack who are suspected of planning and executing the attack, which was reminiscent of the suicide bombings that hit Jerusalem and other Israeli cities during the Palestinian intifada over a decade ago.