Egypt has officially accused Hamas of training the terror operatives who assassinated Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat last year. Hamas now fears that Egypt will declare the movement a terror organization and torpedo Turkey’s efforts to ease the blockade of Gaza.
In recent weeks, senior Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip claimed that the movement’s relations with Egypt have improved somewhat thanks to contacts initiated by Hamas leaders. However, an announcement by the Egyptian Interior Ministry on March 6, 2016, sharply rebuffed such claims.
In a press conference, the Egyptian interior minister, General Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, declared that Egyptian security forces had arrested a network of 48 Muslim Brotherhood terror operatives responsible for the assassination of Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat and that Hamas had played a “major role” in training the operatives.
Barakat’s Assassination on June 29, 2015, Was a Shock to Egypt.
Barakat was killed by a car bomb directed at his convoy as it passed through central Cairo. A short time after the murder, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi stated: “The order to kill the prosecutor general came from the prison cells of accused Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt,” while official Egyptian media claimed that the order had been given by ousted and jailed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
The Balad Egyptian TV channel cited an Egyptian security expert who said the explosives used in the attack had been brought to Egypt from Qatar through diplomatic mail channels of the Qatari embassy in Egypt. Both Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood maintain offices in Qatar.
On March 6, 2016, the Egyptian interior minister announced that Barakat’s assassination had been planned by Muslim Brotherhood leaders who had found political asylum in Turkey and that the terrorists had been trained by Hamas.
Hamas, he said, had played a “major role” in training and preparing the perpetrators over a period of three months. That claim was bolstered by electronic communications between Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Turkey that were intercepted by Egypt.
The Egyptian operatives had been trained in northern Sinai and then brought into Gaza with the help of Bedouin residents. At the end of the training, they returned to Sinai where they prepared the explosives for the attack.
The Egyptian Interior Ministry said the terror operatives who were apprehended also planned to attack several public figures as well as foreign embassies in Egypt, with the aim of destabilizing the country.
In its statement, the Interior Ministry asserted: “The Palestinian problem is one issue and what Hamas perpetrates is another. The connection with Hamas will be shown from its involvement in the prosecutor general affair.”
Hamas was surprised by the Egyptian announcement. The movement’s spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, issued a statement denying the Egyptian claims.
“The allegations,” it said, “are not true and not consistent with the efforts that have been invested in developing ties with Egypt.” This is not the first time Egypt has accused Hamas of terror activity within Egypt in cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is Hamas’ parent movement.
Egyptian authorities say Hamas is also actively assisting Wilayat Sinai, the Islamic State movement’s branch in northern Sinai, and that this aid involves training its operatives in Gaza and treating its wounded fighters in Gaza hospitals. In return, Wilayat Sinai helps Hamas smuggle weapons into Gaza from Sinai.
The timing of the Egyptian announcement on Hamas and Turkey’s connection with the prosecutor general’s murder is not coincidental. Egypt is now under pressure from Saudi Arabia to agree to a Turkish foothold in Gaza, linked to the easing of the blockade and the building of a floating seaport that would enable Turkish ships to reach the Gaza Strip.
The Egyptians strongly oppose Turkey’s demand because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed by Egypt, and because of Hamas’ involvement in terror within Egypt.
The highlighting of Turkey and Hamas’ connection with the Muslim Brotherhood terror gang that assassinated the prosecutor general helps Egypt rebuff the Saudi pressures.
More Pressure on Hamas
Hamas is gravely perplexed by the Egyptian interior minister’s announcement. The movement pins great hopes on Turkey’s efforts to get Israel to ease the blockade on Gaza and build the floating seaport in return for normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations.
What Hamas fears is that Egypt will torpedo Turkey’s efforts regarding Gaza so that it can tighten the blockade and control the Strip’s borders along with Israel.
Hamas also fears that Egypt will decide to declare it, too, a terror organization, just as the Gulf States declared Hizbullah to be one on March 2, 2016. The Arab interior ministers’ meeting in Tunisia also came out in support of the move against Hizbullah.
About a year ago, the Egypt government responded to insistent pleading by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and some Arab states by canceling a court ruling in Egypt that had declared Hamas a terror organization. At this stage, however, the government will likely reinitiate such a move against Hamas. A lawsuit against Hamas was filed by an Egyptian lawyer and is due to be heard in the Alexandria Court of Urgent Matters on March 23, 2016.
Meanwhile, Egypt is rejecting Hamas’ requests for a permanent opening of the Rafah crossing, Gaza’s only egress to the Arab world. Since Sisi took office Egypt has opened the crossing for only a few days each year. The aim is to pressure the Hamas government, which is working with radical Islamic forces to undermine the Egyptian regime.