Hundreds stranded as Egypt police refuse to open Rafah 19May13 May 19, 2013

Ma’an News Agency    -    18 May 2013
EL-ARISH, Egypt (Ma’an) — Hundreds of Palestinian travelers were stranded at Rafah crossing on Gaza’s border on Saturday as Egyptian police refused to open the terminal, in protest over the kidnapping of their colleagues.

Meanwhile, Egyptian security forces closed the airport and seaport in el-Arish on Saturday, also in protest over the kidnapping of seven Egyptian police and soldiers on Thursday in Sinai.

Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim dispatched his assistant to Rafah to convince police to reopen the crossing, but police refused to let the ministry official enter the terminal, a Ma’an reporter said.

The minister’s assistant spoke with police at the crossing gates, and the officers told him they would not reopen the border until their colleagues were released.

Maher Abu Sabha, the general director of crossings and borders, said 800 Palestinians were stranded on the Egyptian side of the crossing on Saturday morning.

The number was expected to reach 1,000 by the end of the day. Most travelers are waiting for the crossing to reopen in hotels in el-Arish. They include sick people who had received medical treatment abroad, pilgrims and students who study abroad.

The governor of North Sinai, Abed al-Fatah Harhur, held an emergency meeting with North Sinai security chief Samih Bashadi and security and military officials to discuss the next steps if Egyptian police refuse to reopen the Rafah crossing.

Egyptian police closed the gates of Rafah crossing on Friday after gunmen kidnapped seven Egyptian servicemen in an ambush in Sinai’s Wadi al-Akhdar early Thursday.

Four of the captured men worked at Rafah crossing, sources at the terminal said.

Egyptian forces stepped up a campaign to close tunnels along the border amid concerns the captured servicemen would be smuggled into the Gaza Strip.

Four tunnels were closed on Friday in the al-Sarsoryeh area near Rafah, a Ma’an reporter said. Egyptian security officials told Ma’an that around 15 tons of cement and large quantities of cigarettes were seized from the tunnels.

Egyptian forces closed seven tunnels in the same area on Thursday.

Gaza’s Interior Ministry announced a state of alert along its border with Egypt on Thursday in case the kidnappers tried to smuggle the Egyptian servicemen into Gaza.

Early Thursday, gunmen ambushed two minibuses in Wadi al-Akhdar, between el-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid cities, and kidnapped seven Egyptian servicemen en route to Cairo for their monthly vacation, Egyptian security officials told Ma’an.

Egyptian security sources said the gunmen were Jihadists and that they were demanding the release of suspects accused of killing Egyptian officers in an attack on el-Arish police station in August.

Local Bedouin leaders have been called in to mediate between authorities and the kidnappers.

A spate of hostage takings, which usually last for no longer than 48 hours, broke out in Sinai after an uprising forced out President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 and battered his security services.

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