Rafah border crossing victim of marred Egypt-Hamas ties

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Egyptian soldiers stand guard on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip on November 26, 2014. AFP/Said Khatib

By: Ahmad Jamaleddine

Published Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The relationship between the Egyptian regime and Hamas is back to square one. The gains achieved by the movement after the recent war on Gaza, namely the resumption of relations with Cairo through indirect talks, came to a halt after the attack on Karam al-Qawadis in Sinai. Although another group claimed responsibility for the operation and broadcast video clips of the attack, the lawsuits against the movement continue.

Cairo – Despite the major political dispute between the regime of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Hamas following the ouster of former Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohammed Mursi, the undeclared reconciliation between the two sides has been put on hold. This came after the attack on the Karam al-Qawadis checkpoint in Sinai, which resulted in the killing of 31 Egyptian soldiers.

After the operation, Hamas announced that it communicated with Cairo to prove its innocence, and that a video clip was issued by Ansar Bait al-Maqdis claiming responsibility for the attack. However, security circles continue to partially blame Hamas for the attack on the army checkpoint, especially since "the perpetrators fled to Gaza and crossed the borders in their cars through the tunnels immediately after committing the massacre."

Political sources maintain that contacts with Hamas have been severed, except for "limited communication with the army intelligence related to reconstruction and the arrangement of logistical issues which involve Egypt." According to the source, communication is always initiated by Hamas, and never by Egyptian officials.

Egypt justified its "refrainment" from communicating directly with Hamas, saying it "prefers to deal with the Palestinian people through President Mahmoud Abbas only," the sources added. Abbas is expected to visit Egypt soon, and the question of the Rafah crossing will likely be on the agenda.

According to sources, the border crossing issue is being handled under national security considerations determined by "the military intelligence service's decision regarding the mechanism of opening or closing the crossing." Palestinian websites have quoted sources on both sides saying that Rafah will be partially opened on Wednesday and Thursday to allow people who have been stuck [in Egypt] back into the Strip.

“The decision to make an exception for some cases is still under consideration and has not been made yet," added the sources, who preferred to remain anonymous. They indicated that Egypt will conduct strict inspections of the identification papers of persons who want to cross, and request that they declare their specific destination after crossing.

"The priority will be for the sick, elderly, and students, in addition to those who will be traveling out of Egypt immediately."

This could mean that the crossing will only be open in one direction, allowing people back into Gaza only. However, sources in the Rafah crossing administration told Al-Akhbar that they have not yet received orders to open the crossing today [Wednesday], but are ready for any decision once it is taken.

Meanwhile, a series of lawsuits have been filed against Hamas and Gaza by both the Egyptian regime and Egyptian citizens who see the movement as a threat to their country. One of the lawsuits filed by a group of people will be heard at the Cairo Court of Urgent Matters on December 15, and will call for the crossing to be closed for good. On November 29, the same court will hear a lawsuit calling for a ban on Hamas' military wing, the Ezzeddine al-Qassam Brigades.

The lawsuits were filed by two lawyers known for seeking fame through courts. The court they chose is not qualified to handle such cases, but they know that the "media spectacle” that follows their impossible-to-implement verdicts appeals to the judges there. In the past few months, the same court witnessed similar reactions related to internal and external cases. Ultimately, the two lawsuits do not fall under the mandate of the Cairo Court of Urgent Matters, and should have been filed at the Administrative Court of the Egyptian State Council.

Moreover, the opening and closure of the Rafah crossing is a national decision, and should left to the president and competent institutions, such as the military intelligence. Independent of any court decision, the President of the Republic has the authority to open the crossing, and vice versa, depending on national security requirements.

The lawsuit that aims to outlaw al-Qassam Brigades does not have a chance, since a prerequisite for prohibition – according to Egyptian law – is the existence of actual activity by the brigades in the country, which is not the case. If the court decides to classify it as a terrorist organization and requires the government to apply the verdict, al-Qassam members will be banned from entering Egypt. However, such a decision would impact thousands of Egyptians who will be entering Cairo through Rafah once it is open.

According to Justice Mohammed Hamed al-Jamal, former head of the Egyptian State Council, the opening of a border crossing is "a sovereign decision in which the judiciary does not interfere. The president of the republic cannot be compelled to open or close a crossing, since such decisions are taken in consultation with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and sovereign bodies, based on Egyptian interests."

"The administrative courts intervene to resolve disputes that arise between the state and individuals based on the files and documents presented. But it does not interfere in political issues since they fall under considerations that judges are not allowed to know about, due to their sensitive and secret nature, and connection to work undertaken by other bodies. Thus, it is impossible to issue a court verdict calling for the closure of the Rafah crossing," he told Al-Akhbar.

The former assistant foreign minister, Ambassador Jamal Abdel-Jawad, said that the problem between the Egyptian regime and Hamas is due to a "lack of transparency on the part of Hamas, in addition to contradictions in its attitude and behavior." He added that Hamas' links with Doha still have a negative impact on its relations with Cairo.

Abdul-Jawad told Al-Akhbar that the root of the problem is the relationship between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. However, this could change through "serious cooperation in the security field with the Egyptian security services, to impose security in Sinai and stop its assistance of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis. Hamas should also rectify its political and media stances to allow a change in the Egyptian public opinion towards it."

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Hamas needs to change its employer - again. It used to work for Iran, then went to work for Qatar when the anti-Assad jihad started. If it doesn't want to see Rafah closed for good Meshaal should pack his bags and head for Cairo. Of course he might not get the 5-star accomodations he has in Doha there. Champagne might be a problem too.

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