Last Wednesday’s militant attacks in Sinai “will have negative implications on the opening of the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip”, senior Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahar told Daily News Egypt Saturday.
Last Wednesday, the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid saw one of the largest simultaneous attacks on a number of checkpoints located in different areas across the town, as well as in Rafah.
“State of Sinai”, “Islamic State” affiliates in North Sinai formerly known Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, claimed the attacks in a statement released on Friday. They also claimed responsibility for another rocket attack, this time on the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon.
The attack in North Sinai left 17 dead and 13 injured amongst security personnel, according to an Egyptian military spokesman. Other sources claim much higher numbers of fatalities, up to 70. The attack on Ashkelon, however, caused no damage or casualties.
The militant group’s statement on the North Sinai attack stated that the coordinated attacks targeted more than 20 checkpoints, and claimed to have killed “tens” of security personnel.
“State of Sinai” justified the attack on Israel due to the country’s “recurring crimes”. According to the group’s statement, these include supporting the Egyptian army in the latest attacks in Sheikh Zuweid against “State of Sinai”.
Both statements were posted through social media accounts affiliated with the group. The authenticity of the statements could not, however, be verified.
Israeli officials, including Major General Yoav Mordechai and Israeli army spokesperson Avichay Adraee, blamed Palestinian movement Hamas for its involvement with North Sinai militants.
Seeing the intensified tension in Sinai, Israel temporarily closed southern highway 12 along its border with Egypt. Al-Zahar denied Israel’s accusations, saying that “it’s likely for Israel to accuse Hamas”.
He added that Hamas does not get involved in Egypt’s internal affairs. The Rafah border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt has been opened twice in both directions during June, for the flow of Palestinians in and out of the Gaza Strip.