A senior Fatah official said Saturday that the Palestinian Authority supports Egypt’s efforts to shut down a tunnel network under the border with the Gaza Strip, prompting outrage from the territory’s Hamas government.
Fatah’s Tayyeb Abdul Rahim, who also heads the president’s office, said the PA considers the tunnels “pathways of vandalism,” and backs Egypt’s fight against terrorist groups in the Sinai by closing them down.
The tunnels have recently become a threat to Egypt’s security, and they harm reconciliation between Gaza rulers Hamas and his Fatah party, as well as damaging Egypt’s relationship with Palestinians, he said in a statement.
Hamas leader Salah al-Bardawil immediately hit back decrying the PA position as “despicable opportunism which contradicts all values and ethics and national responsibilities.”
After gunmen killed 16 Egyptian border guards on Sunday, Egypt closed its border with the Gaza Strip and sealed smuggling tunnels that provide a lifeline to the besieged territory.
Egyptian officials have vaguely accused Palestinians of involvement in the attack in the Sinai but have yet to identify suspects. Gaza’s leadership says it has not seen any proof that Palestinians from the territory were involved, and factions have roundly condemned the attack.
The Egyptian state newspaper al-Ahram said on Friday some 150 tunnels had been destroyed. The tunnels are believed to number some 1,000.
The crossing was briefly reopened Friday. Tunnelers on the Egyptian side said Egyptian forces were not closing tunnels that were previously known to them and used to bring food and construction materials to Gaza.
Abdul Rahim denied that the tunnels, the only route to transport goods into the Gaza Strip which is under an Israeli blockade, contributed to its economic recovery.
“The tunnels only serve a small category of stakeholders and private interests and those who are inconsiderate of Egypt and Palestine’s higher interests,” he said.
He stressed that the West Bank-based PA dedicates half its budget to the Gaza Strip. The government is serious about cooperating with Egypt to confront common challenges and risks to serve the interest of both nations, he added.
Bardawil called on the Fatah-led government to stop participating in the siege on Gaza.
“We are looking forward to the day when the blockade is ended in addition to demolishing the tunnels and we are sure that the wise Egyptian leadership will not leave the Palestinian people under siege,” he said.