Hamas says Egyptian military building buffer zone with Gaza

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Egyptian security forces have destroyed some 20 houses along the border with Gaza, local residents said on Tuesday, in what the Palestinian enclave's Islamist Hamas rulers fear is an effort to build a buffer zone to isolate them.

Egypt's military stepped up a campaign against Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula, bordering Gaza, after deposing Islamist president Mohamed Mursi following mass unrest, and has accused Gaza Palestinians of supporting the militants.

The crackdown, before and after Mursi's ouster, has included closures of tunnels from Gaza the military believes have been used to move weapons, gunmen and goods across the border.

Now, residents on the Egyptian side of the border say, the armed forces have also begun to tear down homes, apparently suspecting they are being used to hide tunnel entrances or provide cover for other militant activity.

The Egyptian crackdown is reminiscent of the demolitions that Israel, citing security concerns, used to carry out on the Palestinian side of the Egyptian border before it pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.

"We reject any concept of building a buffer zone. Buffer zones should not be built between brothers and between friendly countries," said Ehab al-Ghsain, spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza.

An Egyptian army source confirmed the military had intensified its campaign to close tunnels but said he knew of no instructions to put a buffer zone in place.

Residents on the Egyptian side of the border said that at least 20 homes had been torn down.

One resident, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters by telephone that he counted 17 destroyed houses, all located within 700 metres (yards) of the frontier.

"The Egyptian army orders people to evacuate their houses and then they knock them down, leaving residents to look for a place to stay, with relatives or friends," he said.

On the Hamas-controlled side of the border, calls can be heard from loudspeakers on mosques across the frontier urging residents to confront the Egyptian military during demolitions.

Egyptian army officials have accused Hamas, which felt strengthened by Islamist rule in Cairo, of interfering in Egyptian affairs and suggested that Palestinians might be helping Islamist militants in Sinai.

This has been denied by Hamas, which began as a 1980s spin-off from Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood, won a Palestinian election in 2006 and seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.

BORDER CROSSING

Hamas said Egyptian authorities were continuing to limit to 250 the number of Palestinians allowed to cross daily into Egypt from Gaza. Some 1,200 people a day used to pass through the Rafah border terminal before Mursi's removal in July.

"Gaza will never be a danger to Egypt and our battle and struggle will always remain against the Israeli occupation in defence of Palestine and the dignity of Arab and Muslim nation," Hamas said in a statement on Tuesday.

Tunnel owners have said that only a few of the 1,200 passages running under the border are still operational.

Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the tightening of Israel's blockade, the tunnels have been a crucial conduit for consumer goods into the enclave. Hamas Economy Minister Ala al-Rafati said their closure had cost the economy of the widely impvoverished Gaza Strip at least $230 million in July alone.

In 2010, Israel began easing its economic restrictions and allowing more products into Gaza through its border crossings, though Palestinians say limitations should be lifted completely.

(Additional reporting by Egypt newsroom, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Kallis, Narine star in Knight Riders’ crushing win

Kallis, Narine star in Knight Riders’ crushing win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

Pietersen to miss Delhi's first game

Pietersen to miss Delhi's first game

The former England batsman will have to lead the franchise as he is out of the match against Bangalore with a finger injury. More »

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

The court emphasised that the tainted administrator can no longer work for the BCCI. More »

'If you do the wrong thing it will be found out'

'If you do the wrong thing it will be found out'

'Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong and if you do the wrong thing it will be found out' More »

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Welcome to another season of a league that many watch but few trust. More »

Mitchell Johnson may quit T20s for Test cricket

Mitchell Johnson may quit T20s for Test cricket

Australia's Mitchell Johnson may quit limited-overs cricket to prolong his test career with an eye on the 2015 Ashes series in England, the fast bowler… More »

There's a lot going on: Fleming

There's a lot going on: Fleming

He experienced anxious moments in the lead-up to the tournament as the courts decided on whether to suspend the franchise, he said, but stressed that the… More »

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Former Pakistan cricket captain Rashid Latif said Tuesday he turned down the job of national chief selector because he could not work with ex-players tainted… More »

We are not over-confident: Bailey

We are not over-confident: Bailey

Indian Premier League — George Bailey-led Kings XI Punjab will face Chennai Super Kings on Friday. More »

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

MoU between BCCI & its units to avoid double taxation delayed after a few decline to share details. More »

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Their main concern, once again, is the fast bowling More »

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

New Zealand selectors included two new caps in a 15-man Test squad named Tuesday to tour the West Indies, with injury-hit spinner Dan Vettori's future… More »

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The Preview — Defending champions Mumbai Indians take on Kolkata Knight Riders More »

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

He was aggrieved by the allegations against him during the hearing. More »

Klinger on his exit from South Australia

Klinger on his exit from South Australia

Michael Klinger has revealed he felt compelled to leave South Australia after being told he would be only a fringe part of the Redbacks' plans for next season, and disputed the suggestion that he left… More »

India: cricket's Brazil

India: cricket's Brazil

They are tough to beat with a big talent base exposed to good facilities. (CYCSPL) More »

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Franchises are doing their bit to refurbish the image of the tainted league. More »

India-Pakistan Test series likely in 2015

India-Pakistan Test series likely in 2015

The revival of Indo-Pak Test ties could take place in UAE. More »

Kohli hopes to end RCB trophy drought

Kohli hopes to end RCB trophy drought

'This time around we will hope to go few more steps ahead and actually get that trophy' More »

Gavaskar can help IPL regain glory

Gavaskar can help IPL regain glory

Apart from the foreign players a lot of behind-the-scene activity has taken place in selecting the Indian domestic players. More »

Tendulkar, Ganguly to promote soccer

Tendulkar, Ganguly to promote soccer

Leading Spanish club Atletico Madrid and former cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly are among the owners of eight franchises of a new Indian… More »

This isn’t my first trip to India: Neesham

This isn’t my first trip to India: Neesham

Kiwi all-rounder wants to utilise the India leg to explore the country’s tourist attractions. More »

Ishant wanted to quit ODIs

Ishant wanted to quit ODIs

Says his mother made him change his mind. More »