Hamas Closes Gaza Strip Tunnels as Israelis Fear Kidnapping

Article excerpt

Hamas officials closed smuggling tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip on Wednesday following Israeli intelligence reports that militants planned to kidnap an Israeli tourist in Egypt and take him to Gaza. Hamas officials say they will not allow Gaza to become a base for terrorist attacks in Egypt.

Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip ordered the closure of some of the territory's largest underground smuggling tunnels Wednesday, hours after Israeli officials said they had evidence militants were planning to kidnap an Israeli tourist on Egypt's Sinai peninsula and transport him into Gaza.

Israel suggested its citizen's leave Egypt immediately.

Egypt has long feared militants in the Gaza Strip, the restive Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, could use the territory as a base to carry out terrorist attacks in the Sinai. Though still small, militant groups have been established in the strip in recent years that share the ideology and global goals of Al Qaeda, rather than that of the nationalist Hamas. Last August, Hamas security forces killed 20 members of an Al Qaeda inspired group in Rafah, on the Egyptian border.

Hamas' decision to seal Gaza's underground passageways - which have brought food and medicine and weapons to Gaza during an Israeli and Egypt-imposed blockade - was an apparent move to allay Egyptian concerns.

IN PICTURES: Palestinian smugglers on the Egypt Gaza border

Israeli counter-terrorism officials did not say publicly whether the militants allegedly planning to carry out an attack had ties to Gaza or were based in Egypt. Egypt's Sinai peninsula, attractive for its inexpensive, sunny resort spots, hosts a high number of Israeli and foreign tourists each year.

Hamas: Gaza will not be a terrorist "refuge"

"Hamas does not want Gaza to be used as a refuge for anyone who wants to carry out attacks in Egypt, or a place to hide an Israeli captured in Egypt," said Abu Khalil, a commander of Hamas' armed wing based at the border and who said he received clear instructions from his superiors early Wednesday morning to close down the tunnels. …