Abbas: Egypt Right to Create Buffer Zone on Gaza Border

In an interview with Egyptian newspaper Al-Akhbar, Abbas said hundreds of Gazans exploited tunnels along the border to make millions.

AFP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he cannot ask Egypt to stop its operation to demolish houses and create a buffer zone in Rafah, on the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza, because he is fully aware of Egyptian security needs.

The Egyptians have been clearing a strip up to half a kilometer wide along the border in a bid to destroy smuggling tunnels into Gaza, demolishing the homes of Palestinians located along the border.

In an interview with Egyptian newspaper Al-Akhbar, Abbas said 1,800 millionaires had been created in Gaza after they took advantage of the blockade and used the smuggling tunnels for their own personal benefit. As those tunnels were also used for smuggling weapons, drugs, cash and equipment for forging documents, Abbas believed the destruction of the tunnels was the best solution.

The Palestinian president said he had recommended previously the sealing or destruction of the tunnels by flooding them and then punishing the owners of the homes that contained entrances to the tunnels, including demolishing their homes. He added that Egypt and Palestine are the only places in the world that have to deal with such a problem.

Abbas also took advantage of his improved standing in the Egyptian press to attack Hamas, saying it is an inseparable part of the Muslim Brotherhood and takes orders from the Brotherhood’s international leadership.

The question of Hamas’ involvement in the numerous terror attacks against Egyptian police and soldiers in Sinai, and the assault on Egyptian national security, will be decided only by the Egyptian judicial system, said Abbas.

He compared the Islamic group to the Muslim Brotherhood, saying it never stops lying, citing the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last summer. The Hamas political leadership denied any connection, while senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri accepted responsibility for the kidnapping in a speech he made in Turkey, noted Abbas.

In regard to the rule of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Abbas made fun of him, saying Morsi understood the Palestinian issue and the conflict with Israel as well as he, Abbas, understands Japanese.

Abbas also revealed that during Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in late 2012, Morsi proposed accepting the Israeli framework in which the territory of the Gaza Strip would be extended into northern Sinai, in return for ending the operation.

The Israeli proposal was nothing new and had been suggested before, said Abbas. The plan would expand the territory of Gaza, while Israel would take control of large areas on the West Bank. The 2005 disengagement plan carried out by Ariel Sharon was part of this larger plan, Abbas said. This plan was completely unacceptable to the Palestinians, he added, since it did not provide an answer to the principle of establishing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Amnesty International said the Egyptians have destroyed more than 800 homes and evicted more than 1,000 families so far in establishing the buffer zone, which will include water-filled trenches to thwart tunnel diggers, be 500 meters wide and run along the 13-kilometer border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

The decision to create the buffer zone was taken as part of an emergency program that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Egyptian National Security Council announced last October, in response to a series of terror attacks in northern Sinai that killed 33 Egyptian soldiers. These attacks were among the worst to have taken place since the overthrow of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in June 2013.