Gaza peace talks halted after Sinai attacks

Egypt declares full alert and curfew after 33 security personnel die in two incidents

Egyptian mourners attending the funeral for one of the soldiers killed in a suicide attack in Sinai. Photograph: Eadwan Abou Magd/EPA

Egyptian mourners attending the funeral for one of the soldiers killed in a suicide attack in Sinai. Photograph: Eadwan Abou Magd/EPA

 

Egypt announced yesterday it was postponing talks in Cairo on cementing the Gaza ceasefire after closing its border with the Palestinian enclave in response to deadly attacks in the Sinai peninsula.

Two attacks on Friday in Sinai, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel, killed at least 33 Egyptian security personnel in some of the worst anti-state violence since former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last year.

Citing “the state of emergency in the border area between Egypt and Gaza” and the closure on Friday of the Rafah crossing, a senior Egyptian diplomat said indirect talks between Israel and Palestinian factions would not resume in the coming week.

No new date for the negotiations was announced.

The talks, focused on preserving the August 26th truce that ended the 50-day Gaza war and on opening the borders of the Egyptian and Israeli-blockaded territory, adjourned in late September for Jewish and Muslim holidays.

Crux of talks

Israel wants security arrangements to ensure such material is not used by Hamas to rebuild cross-border tunnels or to make rockets, whose firing at southern Israel triggered the Israeli offensive.

Palestinian officials say 2,100 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the summer conflict. Israel put its death toll at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Sinai. Similar operations have been claimed by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Egypt’s most active Sinai-based jihadi group.

Egypt has accused Hamas in the past of aiding Islamist armed groups in Sinai – an allegation denied by the Gaza movement, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“We are against the shedding of a drop of Egyptian blood. We wish Egypt security and stability,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

He said Egypt had informed the group negotiations would not be held as planned today. An Israeli official said Israel had yet to receive word from Cairo on a postponement.

Egypt has declared a three-month full alert in the north Sinai bordering the Gaza Strip and said a curfew would be imposed in areas where the army is waging a security crackdown against elements suspected of killing hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and policemen in the past year.

Protesters jailed

The activists were arrested in June while demonstrating against the law. Passed last year after the army toppled Mr Morsi, it tightly restricts protests – the vehicle Egyptians used to topple autocrat President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and to express discontent with Mr Morsi in 2013.

Four days after their arrest, the public prosecutor ordered the defendants to trial. They were also convicted of blocking off a road during the demonstration, damaging public property and using violence “with the aim of terrorising citizens”. Rights groups have called the charges baseless. – (Reuters)