Over the past week, Hamas officials have continued to deny any connection to the Rafah outpost attack last August, which some Egyptian media outlets recently suggested was directed by senior Hamas members.
On March 21, Hamas’ Mousa Abu Marzouk wrote on his Facebook page that neither Hamas nor any Palestinian faction had anything to do with the attack. In addition, Abu Marzouk said that Hamas has “nothing to do with all the issues that have been raised in some Egyptian media outlets. These are all fabricated charges and false documents which are not based on any evidence.” In a separate interview with Al Ahram Al Arabi, Abu Marzouk said that Hamas is “restricting our fight and our jihad” to only target Israel.
Last week a document that purportedly came from the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence Service, and suggested that the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority is working with secular Egyptian media outlets to run articles that paint Hamas in a bad light, circulated on numerous Arabic media sites. According to Abu Marzouk, “there are elements in the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah who leak incorrect information as part of the war against Hamas, and a continuation of the attempts to discredit the resistance.”
In addition to Abu Marzouk, Ayman Nofal, one of the Hamas members allegedly tied to the Rafah attack, said that the reports are “false” and that he has no connection with the attack. In a comment similar to Abu Marzouk’s, Nofal charged that “there seems to be a campaign to tarnish the Mujahideen in Hamas and the Qassam Brigades for their association with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Hamas sources also recently told Al Hayat that Egyptian authorities have not provided Hamas with the names of anyone suspected of being involved in the Rafah attack last August. However, the sources did say that following the attack Egyptian authorities had Hamas investigate whether a leading Salafi jihadist in Gaza was connected. The jihadist was eventually deemed not tied to the event as he had died a week before the Rafah attack in “mysterious circumstances.”
Meanwhile, according to Fatah media outlets, Hamas recently told Egyptian officials that it was prepared to hand over Salafi jihadists accused of involvement in the Rafah attack. Hamas has denied the allegation.
During the talks, Hamas officials also allegedly noted that they were waging a campaign against Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip. Last week, Hamas forces arrested two Salafi jihadists in Zawaida, raided the home of a member of the Popular Resistance Committees, and kidnapped a Salafi jihadist in Rafah.
While Hamas continues to deny reports that would tarnish its image, reports in the Egyptian media continue to suggest that Hamas is undermining security in Egypt.
On March 24, Al Watan published a report that said 25 Hamas and al Qaeda-linked terrorists had recently been arrested in the Sinai. The terrorists were reportedly found with assorted weaponry as well as maps of various installations in the Sinai. Five days earlier, Al Watan alleged that the Egyptian army had thwarted a plot by Hamas and al Qaeda members to assassinate opposition figures as well as target “vital installations” throughout the Sinai.
More recently, Al Ahram Al Arabi, which first reported that Hamas members were involved in the Rafah attack, published the names of eight additional terrorists allegedly involved in the attack. Hamas has slammed the new report as well.
In April, Egyptian authorities are expected to reveal the results of their investigation into the attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in Rafah.
Palestinian Authority cracking down on Hamas operatives
In addition to its problems with reports in the Egyptian media, in recent weeks, Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces have increasingly targeted Hamas operatives in the West Bank. For example, on March 25, PA forces reportedly arrested eight Hamas members.
According to the Tower, Hamas has formed a “special team” comprised of terrorists released in the exchange for Gilad Shalit in 2011 that is now responsible for directing attacks in the West Bank. The members of the “special team,” who were deported to Gaza, reportedly remain in contact with operatives in the West Bank.
A five-member terror cell in the town of Surif was dismantled the other week after it was discovered that they were planning bombings and kidnappings. And on March 20, Israeli media outlets reported the seizure of explosives from the home of a Hamas member in Surif by PA security forces.
In recent months, Israeli authorities have exposed a number of Hamas terror cells in the West Bank. According to Walla, the involvement of terrorists released in the Shalit deal in planning attacks appears to have “expanded significantly.”
On March 4, authorities announced the arrest of members of a Hamas cell in Hebron that “intended to carry out various terror attacks — but were arrested before executing their plans.” Members of the cell were said to be in contact with at least one terrorist released in the Shalit exchange.
More recently, on March 13, Israeli authorities revealed that in recent months Hamas has increased its efforts to carry out terror attacks, including kidnappings, suicide bombings, and rocket attacks, in the West Bank. The man behind the increase, according to the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), has been Hamas’ Interior Minister, Fathi Hamad.
In late January, Israeli authorities announced the arrest of approximately 20 Hamas terrorists who were trying “to establish a local headquarters in Hebron” and were “planning to kidnap an IDF soldier.” Husam Badran, who was released in the Shalit exchanged, was described as the “primary contact person abroad” for the cell.
And last April Israeli authorities announced that Omar Abu Sanina, who was exiled to the Gaza Strip in the Shalit deal, had tried to send “detailed instructions for how to kidnap an Israeli soldier” to Hamas terrorists in the West Bank.