The Egyptian military has demolished hundreds of smuggling tunnels from Hamas-controlled Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula and is preparing for an all-out onslaught against Hamas, Al Qaeda and other terrorists in the Sinai, Egyptian media reported Sunday.
The Egyptian offensive is a political and military shock to Hamas, with reverberations in Ramallah and Washington, on the eve of yet another attempt by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to re-ignite the “peace process.”
“The reduction in smuggling will make it difficult for Hamas to maintain the level of its revenues, and therefore it will be hard pressed to contain the protests against its rule,” according to the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS). “It will also be difficult to infiltrate weapons into Gaza, mainly enhanced rockets and surface-to-surface missiles.”
The Egyptian Aswat Masriya media outlet reported that 805 tunnels along the smuggling route, centered in the border city of Rafiah, were destroyed. It said that most of the tunnels have been used to smuggle fuel into Gaza.
The Egyptian army will also close the Rafiah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip “indefinitely,” an official source told Egyptian newspaperal-Masry al-Youm. It closed the Rafiah crossing and placed a severe siege on Hamas on Friday but without a peep from the international community, which still condemns Israel for the maritime embargo that is aimed at preventing the import of terrorists and weapons from the sea.
Terrorists in Rafiah targeted a military checkpoint Saturday, but no casualties were reported, and Egypt opened the Rafiah border crossing for four hours Saturday to allow humanitarian cases to cross the border.
The tunnels have been a key route for terrorists to travel freely back and forth to the Sinai Peninsula and establish terrorist outposts aimed at staking out bases for attack on Egyptian tourist areas, such as El Arish, as well as urban areas.
The army killed at least five terrorists on Friday, but Egyptian media reported a larger-scale offensive is in the works after an attempted assassination of Second Field Army commander Maj. Gen. Ahmed Wasfy on Wednesday. Egypt is using heavy arms and warplanes, maneuvers that are prohibited under the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty of 1979 without Israel’s approval.